"You sure you're going to be alright?"
"Yes, fine. Please, just go."
My fingers dig for last sliver of ice inside a tiny plastic cup, the kind they are so fond of on airlines, and pop it in my mouth. I force a thin smile as the cabbie eyes me in the rearview mirror, his one heavy hand resting on the stick shift, the other hanging loosely at the wheel. We are not moving, and the nausea is overwhelming. "If you puke in the car, you pay. If you puke on the car, you pay. You pay what I'd make in the time it takes for me to go and get that shit cleaned. We clear?"
Since boarding the godforsaken plane that has returned me here, three cups of water, two Gravol, a cup of ice, and most of a coke have been consumed, none of it sitting well. Nothing to eat on airplanes, not even the food. A hiccup of something hot and unpleasant has to be carefully swallowed and Iʼm unlucky to discover that carbonation is strong enough to burn on the way back up. Another hiccup, clench my jaw shut. The masseter muscle located in the jaw is the strongest muscle in the human body. Because itʼs so short, has such a small distance to contract.
Thatʼs my last therapist, Lynda speaking. Her words.
Lynda with a y.
The cabbie does not notice.
“…sixteen are dead with hundreds more gravely injured in the worst light-rail train accident of San Franciscoʼs history. Reports from the ground tell us…” The voice of a British woman drones on about death, of plane accidents and suicide bombings. A voice to fall asleep to. I catch something about razor blades in cans of peaches and ask the cabbie to turn it up.
“You donʼt like?”
He misunderstands my ʻupʼ for ʻoffʼ yet only changes the station to one playing the chorus to ʻHotel Californiaʼ. I am too nauseous to protest.
We slide out from under the awning of the arrivals turn-a-bout, the car an echo chamber of the staccato beat of rain. Always rain with arrivals, never with departures. That is Father's voice speaking, his words.
"Gotta preference for one route to another?"
"You're the driver,” I spit the words through gritted teeth, “drive."
The cabbie snorts again, but doesn't bother with a follow up question. As someone with even a sliver of self control, I hyperventilate to control the nausea. Keep it down long enough and it gets digested along with all the other shit in your body. In one way and out another.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
Not that Iʼm drunk. Not that the cabbie would notice, not in the dark of the car, over the pounding of the rain or the shit soft-rock Sting or Sade he's got playing at minimal volume, but my breath is not tainted by liquor. I breathe on an eight second beat. Eight in, eight out. We take a soft left turn with the off ramp and I swallow again. My new worst friend eyes me in the rearview every few moments, noticing the slight contractions of my throat and the sour look on my face.
Fuck, he's thinking, what the hell is this kid on? What are kids even taking these days?
Meth, heʼs thinking. Coke cut with Gravol, T-1ʼs, heʼs thinking, all of it on an empty stomach.
If only this was the aftermath of a great coke binge. I'm the first to concede just how strung out I appear in this moment, with the hospital bracelet still circling my childish wrist. The clenched jaw and pallid skin, the look is very Jil Sander, very Robbie Downey Jr. circa 1986. Past the clinical diagnosis of distinct pallor caused by a reduced amount of oxyhemoglobin to the skin, I am in translucent territory. This is the rains fault, the food, the drink. This is too much all at once and Iʼm drowning. Father has always simply said that I am sickly, as in “Heʼs in a sickly sort of way,” and people just nod and stop asking questions. I bruise easy have never been much of a talker. Head between my knees I clamp hands round my ears. Everything becomes a muffled drone and the world down below is wonderfully dark and smells only of minerals and dirt and boot polish. There is wet sand down here, and salted grit. I wish for a pebble to suck on but there is nothing but a gum wrapper to be chewed. It tastes of mint and bubblegum and street dirt. Just my luck.
The cabbie is mocking me. Sitting straight again, a noise gurgles from my stomach, the sound of water sloshing. His laughter dies instantaneously. My smile only gets thinner.
The phone rings. Father. An unknown number.
“ - on my way to Seoul,” Father opens the conversation mid-sentence, “Iʼm assuming youʼve just touched down.”
“Yeah, I just got back and Iʼve lost six pounds,” I say, “Lynda had me released early.”
“We donʼt see eye to eye,” I hedge at the reason but refuse to elaborate.
This is a mind game. This is a disguise. My fingers search for another sliver of ice and find nothing but a pool of stale water at the bottom of the cup. Though the cup itself is biodegradable, it really isnʼt something I should be nibbling at.
“Thatʼs not the point Simon. People are starting to talk.”
Iʼm wishing for ice, for something to wash down the rising tide of awful from my esophagus.
Father is barely listening. The way he draws out the syllable, heʼs at least a scotch into the flight. Maybe two.
“So,” he continues after a pause, “what are you going to do about this?”
“Excuse me,” I pause to breathe, everything is coming
that must go
“-this is not my fault, not my problem to fix. Iʼm not broken.”
“Theyʼve run everything Simon, done everything. People are starting to talk.”
“This isnʼt a choice for me, Father.”
“I dare say it looks like it. Therapy didnʼt work, the best rehabilitation centers havenʼt, so now this is on you. I expect to see you normal by the end of this summer. This stops, now.” “Itʼs something, Father,” I am out of excuses, running out of time, “itʼs something, I donʼt know what and neither do they, but Iʼm sick and thereʼs nothing for it.”
The cabbie is becoming antsy, and interrupts.
“What you got? Is it contagious?” in the rearview, his eyes shine bright with a sort of unnamed fear, lit by the red of a stoplight.
“Itʼs not contagious, itʼs allergies,” I say, “just drive.”
“You sure? Are you sure this isnʼt like, some new flu? Itʼs not SARS, right? Whereʼd you fly in from?” The cabbie has a slight sheen of perspiration on his brow, “Norway? Flights outta there are getting canceled, nasty virus.” I glare and he shifts slightly forward in his seat as though if it were SARS or AIDS he could avoid contamination by having that extra six inch gap between us. Back on the line, the sound of a page flipping. Father is reading a trade mag, doesnʼt ask who I was talking to.
“Iʼll try my best,” I say, “Iʼll figure something out.”
The silence could go either way, is dangerous.
“Listen, I really think-”
“Yes, yes, fine. University in the fall, they wonʼt take a student intent on killing themselves, you know.”
“Yes, Father-” I say, and then the phone clicks. The line buzzing, dead.
“-goodbye.” I mutter to nobody in particular.
And that is all. Who is to know when this trip ends, another begins. A stopover in town does not mean quality Father-son time will occur, does not promise anything. Should a letter from Oxford arrive accepting my person in the fall, Father will most likely be absent. Should police arrive to examine the contents of the greenhouse or a neighbour stop by to check if I am still alive I could or could not answer the door, pick up the phone. Father is not here to watch, so I will sleep all day and play all night. I will run free and roam wild for these last precious weeks of summer, waiting for this most serious fall when manhood and dorms and regimented eating schedules are meant to take over.
This is to be anything but a last gasp.
I imagine for the sake of atmosphere that the phone that hangs up on me is thick black plastic. Done and done. A heavy black shiny plastic phone that is brought around for expensive calls made from the private jet. Its intense manliness compliments all the thick carpet and brushed suede, leather soft as butter. Hot towels and young air hostesses to unfold them. As far as I know, that is Fathers life.
As far as I know, this is my chance to do as I please, be as I please, to become
One summer, no more than six weeks of it left, as far as I know, this is my last chance.
The cab makes an abrupt stop behind a bus stuck at the bottom of the hill, fishtailed halfway into a marshy ditch. “Shit.” The blinker is flipped and begins to tick,
to the left; his eyes twitch between the bus, the traffic built up around it, the meter, back to me. His breath has ketones on it, unbrushed teeth. Filthy.
“You alright back there?”
The cabbieʼs voice is thunder, the clicking of the blinker ticks in my skull deep down, everything resonates too loud. “I would kill for chalk right now,” I murmur, lips tingling, tongue slow and forming thick quiet words, “anything. Ice, paper, god give me something, give me a rat.”
“Nothing, nothing,” I swallow thickly, whisper to the darkness at my feet, “I just want to rip out your neck so bad.” The radio has been turned up for this song, ʻBlack Magic Womanʼ, and buddy couldnʼt understand me even if he wanted to. Shit is right, shit, shit, shit, Iʼm becoming light sensitive, have a fucking migraine. The beats of my breath are off, eight in, six out. The breath out invites the feeling of an upheaval and that will not do. Controlled hyperventilation is a skill, an art. In five minutes there will be no feeling left in my fingers or toes. Oxygen will drain from them as light slowly fizzles and dies on a birthday sparkler, and then will be gone. Past pins and needles. I swallow again, my head falling further forward of its own accord.
Doctors, they throw around words, use these words as though I do not understand them. It drives me to lie right to their faces. “Do you have any strange compulsions for certain foods,” they always ask this, “any weird or sudden cravings?”
“Ice,” I say, but what I mean is blood. Iʼm thinking about the flesh of this doctors yoga toned thigh. Of liver, of her heart still beating. I want to kiss her and rip out her tongue. “Ice,” I say, but what I mean is something much more visceral. These doctors, they cannot know, will never know what it is I want, I need.
“Ice?” they say.
“Yeah,” I say.
Hyperventilating and trying my very hardest not to vomit on my shoes in the backseat of this decrepit cab, no real diagnosis, this is what doctors get me. This is thousands of dollars at Fathers expense, not that I care, to be sent to a recovery center for disorders that I do not have.
Fuck this, I think, fuck it.
The cab has ceased moving. I sit up, slide the dirty gray tab up to unlock the door, and swing legs out onto the slicked tarmac below. All in slow motion, all with care.
Puke comes roaring out of my mouth, my nose. Hydrochloric acid and diet coke make for a frothy, burning mix. Itʼs not that different going down, to be honest. The cabbie gets out of the car, walks around my circle of influence and lights a cig. As I look up through the bits of fringe stuck sweat slicked to my forehead, he joke-gestures the pack at me. Red, a carton, something economical. My hand musters enough energy to wave him off before clenching back on my knee, biceps straining as I double over once more. The fucker laughs. The rain is barely a mist now, breaking the stark orange glow of streetlights into a fog of hazy yellow.
“Welcome home,” he says, “thatʼll be twenty bucks.”
2 “Your collars are coming in nicely.”
It is disturbing how quiet the house is to wake up to, alone behind the turned deadbolt. It is too early to consider morning yet, too late to be night. The world outside remains dark and I can only hope that this sleep was painfully short and not abundantly long, as though I have places to go and people to see today. Tomorrow, this week, for that matter. Inside hermetically sealed perfection the world is silent. The echoing of rain has abated and my spine no longer shivers from the fear of thunder, of great cracking skies. Just the gentle buzz of the A/C, the click and drone
of the refrigerator. No more girls crying while trying to rip out their I.V. for the eighteenth time. No more sighs of relief as the cutters get their fix thanks to a sharpened bobby pin. “I donʼt belong here,” I would whisper this into the dark night air. “Yes you do,” they would whisper back.
“Iʼm not one of you.”
“Stop feeling special,” theyʼd say. “You have no idea what I have,” I would whisper, “what harm I do.” “Youʼre one of us.” “I have something you canʼt even understand,” I would whisper, “I donʼt even understand. I canʼt control It.” “You mean yourself.”
“No, itʼs bigger than me. It, with a capital I.”
“Youʼre one of us.”
“I donʼt belong here.”
“Youʼre one of us.” I hated that they thought they knew better than me what a fucked up person I am. What I really wanted to do was go over and find whoever was responding in the dark of night and stab her so many times with her own vital needle that she drowned on her own fluid, like puncturing a waterbed a thousand thousand times. Without Bent to share nighttime excursions with, I began to crave some form of agreement. On anything I said.
“Iʼm not sick,” Iʼd say.
“Vices need to be cleansed from us Simon, we need to work on them.”
We? We. There was no we, not then, not now, not ever.
“But then who would I be, Lynda, without my vices?”
“Yes you are, Simon.” That would be Lynda speaking, my therapist. Lynda, with a y. “Iʼm not hungry, not for regular food. Food makes me nauseous.” “Thatʼs because you have a subconscious fear and hatred of it Simon, isnʼt it? Letʼs talk this out.” “Iʼd really rather not. Itʼs only one of my little vices.”
This is when Lynda would uncross her fat legs in their cheap polyester casings and lean forward, maybe touch my hand. Fat sealed in beige on beige. Sausages - pre-made. I donʼt liked them pre-cooked anyways. This is what counts as care these days.
“Youʼd be better, Simon.” Smile, cross, uncross.
Inhale. Swallow. Control. “No,” Iʼd say, “itʼs not some psychiatric bullshit thatʼs killing me, itʼs physical, Lynda, itʼs because everything that goes in comes back out, Lynda, in case you havenʼt noticed, and Iʼm not exactly enjoying it. This has been going on for years and now itʼs getting worse so all I ask is for you to fucking fix it.” “Language.” Furrowed rolls above the pencilled in brows followed by another smile. “Youʼre an advanced manipulator and a liar Simon," Lynda likes to think that she is an intelligent, good person, she would smile during these lies, "but that wonʼt work on me. Nope, not on Lynda.” She likes to think that this sort of shit helps. I would sigh here, fingernails dug deep into the gum tacked seat of the chair. Needing a cigarette. A rat. Lyndaʼs poodle, Sprinkles, what I wanted most was to match Sprinkles in real life to the heinous thing framed on the wall. A cigarette with Sprinkles, all I wanted. Nails dug in so deep, deep enough to splinter plywood and give me something worth staying awake for to pull out at night.
“Iʼm not bulimic, Lynda,” I would say. “Yes, you are.”
For weeks the endless, pointless, back and forth. Sometimes, Lynda might tip her head back and wink, or wryly smile. All one could notice about that tight little smile was that it was an oily Barbie doll pink, cheap lipstick, and that it was false. Completely false. “I need bloodwork,” Iʼd say.
“You need therapy. You need to make amends with this yourself first. Once you admit that this is an issue, we can help you. Until then,” and her eyes would roll upwards, her hands would flutter with exasperation. In my head I would prompt her tell me what was wrong with me, again. For the thirteenth, twentieth, hundredth time. “Youʼre a handsfree purger Simon, we can all see that.” “False,” Iʼd say, “in case you havenʼt noticed, Iʼm starving to death. Help me.” “How would you like us to help you, Simon, when you wonʼt help yourself?” Lynda is full of falseness, false care. “Two words. Blood. Work. Bloodwork. Do it. Check me for everything.” Here, Lynda might sigh, or roll her eyes to the speckled white roof of her therapists suite again. The Honesty Lounge. Maybe cross her fat little legs again. While looking at Lynda, all I can see is a slow bit of prey. A fleshy bag waddling about full of rich delicious meat and blood and marrow just waiting to be sucked from her bones. “Weʼve already checked for everything Simon, you know that.” “Then check again, because obviously you havenʼt found whatʼs wrong with me yet. Youʼre doctors for fucks sake.” “Language,” Lynda would raise an eyebrow. “Alright, for Christʼs sake, do some fucking science here, Jesus.” “Why donʼt you just tell me what you think youʼve got Simon, if you donʼt like the diagnosis youʼve been given?” Right about here I would stop speaking and spend the rest of the session counting the roofing tiles, or concoct racy scenarios involving me fucking the cutter chick on D4 or Bent flying out to visit me unexpectedly one night and the two of us totally besmirching Lyndaʼs desk. Leaving something Lynda wouldnʼt quite know what to make of smeared on the portrait of Sprinkles. Blacking out her eyes with Sharpie - childish, I know. This is how every conversation with Lynda went, other than the occasional Freudian fountain of bullshit she would espouse, about my distant Father and dead (I told Lynda she was dead) Mother, and anal retentive this and no siblings that and sex this and anxiety that. Bullshit. All of it. “Well I donʼt know what Iʼve got Lynda, thatʼs why Iʼve been asking. ” “Well then, Mr. Uncooperative, why donʼt you tell the circle your symptoms and weʼll all have a brainstorm?” “What, Blondie doesnʼt like his diagnosis? Youʼre in here with us, get used to it.” That would be Tina talking, Tina running her mouth again. A daily occurrence in the group therapy sessions. Lynda rubbing the shoulder of Tina, the twat of a woman. In her early thirties with way too much money and time on her hands, totally addicted to her kids Ritalin. Tina had cried yet again during Sharing
Time about how her husband might have this mistress in Bolivia and her hair is falling out and her last gel nail broke yesterday and blah blah fucking blah. “Well, Bitch,” I sighed. “Fag,” sheʼd spat. “Language,” said Lynda. Inhale. “Well, I have no appetite,” “Ana,” the bitch who whispered in the night interrupted, garnering laughs from the preteens who looked like middle-aged models, minus the good skin and hair. I was the only man in the center at this point, until Paul came along. Not that Paul matters, he was great fun as long as it was dark and you couldnʼt make out the marks on his face and he meant nothing, means nothing to me. Paul is probably dead now. “No, darling. Try again,” I restarted, “I donʼt have an appetite for normal things.”
Control. “Excuses, we hear you,” whispering girl quipped again. “Come now, let Simon finish,” Lynda cooed, still rubbing Tinaʼs poor frail little freckled shoulder.
Exhale. “Youʼre just avoiding food, and the answer to the question.” “Now Faye,” admonished Lynda, so whispering girls name is Faye, was Faye, is of no importance. “Oh,” inhale, “Iʼve got more.” “Hit me,” Faye tried to stare me down through her auburn fringe, staring with these wide dumb blue eyes. They reminded me of rabbit eyes, of Hopper, my next door neighbours previous pet. Exhale. No control and it all comes rushing out. “All I want to do is hunt down bitches like you at night and rip your fucking throat out with my teeth, no, rip a hole and use my nails, then drag you somewhere dark and feed on your liver and lungs and heart and kidneys through a hole I tear in your stomach while youʼre still alive and screaming.” The circle went blissfully quiet. The snickers, the sideways whispers behind cupped hands. Tina stopped her fucking sniffling for once, sat up a little straighter. Lyndaʼs oily pink lips didnʼt know what to do. “Now, Simon,” she begun nervously, tears welling in her eyes even through a forced smile. Tears that would cut around the pink oil-slick, stain the collar of her cheap shirt like sweat. “Yeah,” I couldn't feel the back of the cheap pea green chair anymore even though I was gripping it, ready to lunge, I would feel the splinters embedded under nails later “all this, all this,
is just an act. This is just me fasting so I can stuff enough of your sweet hot organs and flesh in before I wash you down with your own blood. Then Iʼll wipe off all traces of you and blame it on a rabid dog. On Sprinkles.”
Cue laughter. Mine.
All I wanted was a cigarette, was dirt, was an eraser to devour. Her ears, perfect warm little shells. Would I taste the ocean? "Thatʼs my other symptom.” Faye remained sitting tall, staring. I wanted was to smell her hair at the root and lick her skin and see if I could taste for
All I wanted was to know what Faye was really made of.
“Really,” she whispered. “Yeah,” just thinking about it made my heart race painfully, “really,
really.” I smiled at Faye and she burst into tears. At that point I no longer had to attend group sessions and not too long after Lynda had me released. She fucked with the records, Lynda had the power for that, she recorded me eight pounds higher than the week before. Eight six. Suddenly Iʼm at the fridge staring blankly into the empty freezer. “Why no ice?” Mumbled words for an audience of none. No ice in the dispenser, so I fill the trays with lukewarm water and set them in the empty frozen space. An empty fridge in an empty house is a strange thing; I am a mannequin living in a show home across the way. 72 inch LCD television screens made from cardboard and apple-pie scented body spray to mock the smell of home baking. Buy this life, then a family, then a dog. This barbeque comes with a son, itʼs limited edition, itʼs new, itʼs now, so call, call now. Lynda faxed a warning for my Father to take heed of my actions, to watch out for suspicious deaths of small creatures in the neighborhood. Too bad for the neighbourhood that Father wasnʼt home to see it, that this warning came far too late. This is a lie of omission, maybe.
“To be fair,” Bent would say, “our entire generation is one of mild sociopaths, because omitted truths arenʼt lies. If one can only rationalize their actions then nothing wrong has occurred. Itʼs only a rule as long as you follow it.” Drunken wisdom, or sober thought, all the same. This house is too much like the show homes we sneak into on weeknights when we have the midnight munchies. We piss in their toilets and leave our leftovers on the dining room table for the next days viewers. The fur of a rabbit on the mantelpiece, the paw of someoneʼs beloved poodle in the candy bowl. We tuck these tokens into the far back of the cupboards so some poor little housewife will find them during spring cleaning in a couple of years. Sheʼll blame the dog, the kids, the maid. Shift it one step over and nobody looks twice at us. The maid has been changing the sheets in my absence and the rows of down in my silken comforter have been kept in shape. The blanket is dragged with me into the bathroom, something to curl up in while slumped next to the open toilet, lights off, door closed. “Fucking A/C,” I mumble to no one in particular. Standing on shaking legs I turn on the taps to as hot as theyʼll go, strip to nothing and throw the clothes in a heap by the door. The silk will crumple, donʼt put that there, it will stain, donʼt you know – Fatherʼs words crowd out my own thoughts. “Shut the fuck up, Father.” The jet streams hot are enough to scald skin but do nothing to calm the butterflies in my stomach. This feeling wonʼt go away; I cannot rid myself of this nervous energy. Like a hollow waiting to be filled, yet pulsing and constricting out anything that enters it. If I said I was starving I would be lying. Iʼm dying. The water runs hot enough to scald and yet my feet are still frozen. “Your blood runs cold,” Bent says, “youʼre an animal.” Pacing does nothing for it. There is barely enough time to get out of the shower to vomit in the toilet, flushing half a liter down the drain. The cool floor greets my forehead and I wonder if the ice is done yet. Wonder why I still canʼt feel my fingers. The wind screams and causes a draft to spill under the bathroom door, same as someone blowing softly at the back of your neck. I have to crawl on all fours back into the still running shower to avoid it. In the corner the steam billows thickly and condenses on the glass enough to wipe out any vision, any reflection of the thing I am. Darkness, wet warmth, all is well for just a moment. By the time I wake the water has run cold and my fingernails are purple with fat half moons of white. In the dark my eyes donʼt have to fight to avoid the mirror. “I donʼt have to see you,” I mock my image, the reflection that is both there and invisible to me, “if I canʼt see you then you arenʼt real.” Myself being someone I no longer truly recognize. A grotesque animated corpse of a person, made beautiful by thickly layered clothes, brushed cottons and soft silks. Tina called me Blondie to be contemptuous but really she was just jealous. Sheʼll never be as thin, blonde, young or rich as me. That is what hurt her most.
Opening the door a crack allows the manufactured breeze to give me goosebumps, cold to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. The clock radio flashes 2:19 in red as bright as blood. Four hours more to sleep, it will have to be enough. Even in the dim light, a note becomes apparent on the countertop. Printed in Times New Roman, Fatherʼs favourite font. Donʼt forget to brush, I will not pay for veneers because of this. Fatherʼs words. “Oh Father,” I say, “you should know that one isnʼt supposed to brush directly after purging – it pushes the acid into the enamel. Ill-effects.” The black dripping mirror will have to stand in for Father tonight, for an ear to listen, for an eye to see this, see me. Even in the dark my spit appears black in streaks against the white of the sink and I just cannot bring myself to care. Brushing over and over again until the sink is swirling with streaks and my mouth tastes of pennies. “How naive of you to care,” I give myself a beautiful bloody smile and no longer have to question why Father will not stay overnight in his own home. A glance at the mirror is fatal with my eyes adjusted to the pale light from a half moon. It is the exact same reflection of myself from this morning, and the morning before that. My face forces the smile again, but sad thing is that it doesnʼt even fake well anymore, looks as plastic and unnatural as it feels. For some reason the same eyes stare back at me, hazel gone gold. Not my mothers eyes, so Iʼve been told. She had a lovely green. Just lovely, what a lovely couple, what lovely children - well. Could have been. Plural. And then as if the one try failed too. Itʼs too bad, thatʼs what people say before they trail off. Too bad what? The same razor straight white teeth and wispy blonde hair as before only now sunken and streaked with blood. “Your collars are coming in nicely,” I compliment the reflection as though hard work is the reason why my clavicles have begun to jut through the tops of shoulders. There is not enough skin to stretch on this body. The space between hipbones is strangely concave, a wide empty bowl and that which I want to fill it chained next door in a yard or waiting for me in its den. Warm, heartbeats a thousand a minute, so many tiny teeth. Waiting for me. This is not the me of yesterday or the day before. Not the same as a year ago. I am a wholly new thing in this moonlight because the eyes I watch so carefully in the mirror dart about, they know me too well, they are watching me and they are
mine, I fully expect them to wink out of time, for the thing in the mirror to leap out. To rend, to kill. I am afraid of what it will do, will say. “I donʼt belong here,” I whispered once into the dark night, “I am not one of you.”
No reply came. Faye, the girl, left either because she was better or the insurance ran out or she had died, I couldnʼt come to care which. Lynda may have had her moved, or perhaps she had put in a request for a new neighbour. Perhaps my long stints staring at her in the dark took their toll. I took the silence as the answer I had always wanted. We know. With my stomach empty and head light I curl into the comforter in the middle of the tiled bathroom floor and pray to nothing that daylight comes.
3 Do These Meds Come in Gold?
The doctors told me it was natural. The lack of appetite.
“Youʼre just coming out of a growth spurt,” they said, “your metabolism is slowing down with you.” “Come back if it gets worse,” the first said. “Why bother when I look so coke-chic?” I had replied with a smile. She hadnʼt bothered with the follow-up, and neither had I. This is just last year, a doctor that had absolutely no sense of fun. Standing at the kitchen counter, the microwave projects 6:28. Cerise, thatʼs the colour. Blood has too much blue in it. Pills are littered on the cold countertop like skittles by hands shaking with equal parts addiction and genuine excitement. Each must be sorted into its proper spot and portioned. Two bumblebee stripes and one sea foam, or a cherry red and two sea-foams. What about a teal? Glossed jack-olantern orange, dull forest green, a couple stamped baby blue tabs of E. Umbrellas stamped into them. Last time it was a gun. The world, children, is your oyster. Eat it. Devour everything whole, regurgitate, and repeat. Forever and never and always. Water must be boiled, then purified and chilled. Coffee to be made, hands washed, counters scoured, hands washed, cup cleansed, cup bleached, hands washed. This is called distraction. While coffee brews and ice cubes melt away from the edges of their plastic grid, this is the time to comb hair just so and check my reflection for tell-tale swollen red eyes, eyes overflowing. To rub the bitter powder of the bumble-bee stripes into my gums and pop two cherry reds. That will do until noon, at least. Until after lunch. I check for powder just under my nose, for purple lips, a puffy face. “God forbid,” my reflection whispers at me. It smiles, little joke. A car horn beeps three times from the driveway, Bentʼs signal that he has arrived. Between the sound of the horn and my walking from the kitchen to foyer he already is standing so close to the door that he blocks the light of a clear day with his size, bobbing nervously in and out of view. The only thing shining brighter than the gold around his neck is the gleam off his huge wolfish grin. With the door unlocked he takes a step inside and slams it shut behind him with a kick. His push isnʼt gentle, leads me into the cool confines of the living room, his hands finding holds in the dips of my collar bones. They encircle my shoulders completely to feel at the sharp peaks beneath the skin. Behind the mirrored bay windows we can see all and the world can see nothing of his welcoming embrace. “Why hello there, stranger,” he half growls, he is smiling, he places a kiss at the corner of my lips. Bent is all energy and smiles and way hyper-caffeinated. Just by looking at him I know that heʼs already gone for a run this morning, the way the veins in his forearms are softly pulsing with his heartbeat. He does this so he can drive safely, without the urge to flip the beemer doing a hundred and god knows what on the freeway. “Long time,” I say, pulling away from him and heading for the kitchen, “no see.”
Bent follows obediently, my beautiful feral puppy. I jump to sit between the coughing coffee machine and my first tray of ice. I pop a cube and moan at the chills. Bent smiles just a second too long, far too open. His look is hunger and want and heʼs staring at my throat. The pulse of his heartbeat has quickened infinitesimally, the juncture of jaw and sinew and skin just before the masseter muscle reveals his pulse is subtle and yet speeding, my stomach growls. “Youʼve got hungry eyes,” I tell him and he looks up, “donʼt you read your scripture? Youʼre not allowed to want me. Totally not supposed to, wholly illegal. To your Mother, or God, whoever, both. Iʼm just trying to save you from an eternity in hell shoveling shit.” “I read it alright,” Bent stares at the roof while fingering the Zippo in his pocket, “itʼs just a well known fact that my mother cannot see through walls and therefore neither can Jesus.” “This is true,” I concede. “Wait, give me a second,” and Bent is out of the room, down the hall, Iʼve barely blinked and heʼs gone. If Bent at any point put all his overflowing energy and ability towards acting out his urges, quite a few people would be dead by now. Friends, family, definitely a lot of randoms. Without his morning run and regularly scheduled activities like popping downers from an orange tic-tac box, fucking Anna through the floor, climbing the sides of carparks, swimming mornings at the college and hunting animals with his bare hands, Bentley James could cause a lot of damage to this world. Would. Iʼm glad heʼs already gone for a run, frankly. The coffee I pour tastes of nothing, maybe paper. Something burnt, just faintly. “What does your mother think weʼre doing right now?” I call down the hall, re-washing my cup to be used again. Bleach it. Hands washed. “Grocery shopping. I told her that Iʼm taking you grocery shopping.” Bent reappears around the hallway corner brandishing two identical pairs of Ray Banʼs and a stained white sweater from someplace. The rust coloured splatter pattern on it could be from paint, maybe. “Bet she liked that one, taking me to buy food that will rot or be purged, as the faithless will one day be from the face of this earth.” “Donʼt say purge,” Bent wrinkles his nose at the word, placing a pair of Ray Banʼs on my face “itʼs unbecoming. And you donʼt even.” In reality, he is trying his very best not to laugh at my impression of his Mother, Caroline, and her end of the world fountain of bullshit. “Thatʼs not what your mother thinks,” I say. Bent grabs a melting cube from the tray and begins to rub it on his lips, wetting them like heʼs applying lip gloss. Thinking of them chilled like this, it would be like kissing a corpse and from behind his glasses he catches my look. “Youʼre a fucking tease.” “Youʼre lucky thatʼs all I am today.” I wish I could tell if his words are half warning. Bent is above all other things good, but somewhere just barely beneath that surface is an awesome sort of wrath. Anything that is even vaguely enticing has been trained out of him, or so his parents have tried. His eyes are covered near constantly with sunglasses, mask emotion. His smiles are
open and friendly the way a dogs tail wagging is. This is only to distract you from a look that could start fires or red lips on a totally fuckable mouth. I notice that his fingernails are buffed shiny and square which means that Anna made him go for a pedicure with her, and I ask him how she is. “I thought we had it agreed that Bentley James is not your personal property,” Bent flashes his hands at me knowing all too well where this train of thought came from, “we agreed on that.” “Yes, but Iʼve got you on time share and that bitch better understand when her time is up.” “Because right now itʼs you time, isnʼt it?” For this Bent gets a slap to the shoulder but weʼre both smiling again. Out on the deck we lay on the long whitewashed lawn chairs, and Bent unearths two slim cigs from the cigarette case normally packed tight with caps of MDMA. For nights he goes into the woods instead of to youth group, for nights I am not invited along. “Iʼm glad youʼre back,” Bent says this as he puts both unlit cigs in his mouth and lights one, mine, hands it to me. Never once does he look sideways, look at me. Never at. Even if he did it would be impossible to tell where his eyes lay behind their black plastic shields. “So,” he says, “tell all.” “No. They just gave up trying to find an explanation after a while. I mean, they came up with a nice little diagnosis and all, but they still donʼt know.” “They still donʼt know. Good,” Bent nods at nothing, satisfied, “thatʼs the important thing.” “Itʼs only got you and me, and only weʼve got It.” “But youʼre the one whoʼs sick.” Bentʼs eyes are directed skyward, searching for something that isnʼt there. Possibly blinking away tears as heʼs much more often the crier. Moments like these Bent cannot fathom how charming he looks with a bitchstick perched in his wide tan hands, the sight of this well-kept Catholic boy splayed out and smoking on a Sunday morning. He flicks his cigarette into the bank of purple and gold pansies exploding along the decks edge, eyes set on a magpie that has just landed on the roof above us; it hops unevenly on a single leg. He pops his knuckles; idle hands, idle hands, he thinks. Carolineʼs words. “They deduced that I was intent on killing myself, which you know is untrue. Iʼd eat if I could, I really do try. Did. Did. But everything that goes in now just comes back up, itʼs awful, really.” “Even coffee?” Bent speaks over his shoulder, his fingers trying to find purchase on the stucco siding of my house. The magpie sits on its side left unruffled halfway up the roof. One would swear its wet black eye is set on me and not him, like Iʼm the predator, the evil thing. Smart magpie. “Yeah, sometimes, but I just donʼt care. Itʼs still so worth it.” “True.”
A windowsill becomes a foothold, the eves trough a stable grip for his left hand. Bent broke the cities high jump record the year before while running on a sprained ankle, and climbs with the natural agility of a monkey left to fend for itself in suburbia. “According to the doctors, I havenʼt got a whole long while to live like this.” Bent heaves himself onto the roof, coolly nonchalant behind his sunglasses. He fishes out another smoke and throws it down to me, adjusting himself to sit cross legged on the speckled black tarpaper. He is silent, stoic, moments like this he is the only thing I hold sacred. His fingers tap
tap on the tiles, he is more than silent, he is scared. “Donʼt worry, darling. Stop it, donʼt. Just get the bird.” He shrugs and begins to crawl up towards the poor thing. We should save it, put it in a box, keep it as a pet. We could call her Maggie. She could be our friend. Could. “They call it pica. The consumption of foods that are not foods, for me thatʼs the ice problem.”
“You mean the animal problem.”
“Shut it. They think Iʼve been replacing food with ice because ice tastes better to those with an iron deficiency-” “For serious?” I glance up at Bent through a wreath of fresh smoke, see him cradling the bird in his lap. He scans the neighbourhood from left to right, petting the trembling thing. Maggie is shivering under his touch, her iridescent blue and black feathers standing on end. Somewhere a lawnmower revs, children are screaming from the thrill of a trampoline. “Hello little pie-pie,” he coos gently, lighting another cigarette. Distraction. “Yeah, thatʼs what I said.” “The ice is soothing,” he says more to Maggie than to me. Speaking to Bent is like having side notes to your own monologue. One can hold entire conversations with him and never have him say anything at all. This is a diversionary tactic. Bent pets the birds head one last time before taking hold of Maggie and snapping her neck with the most incredible crunching noise. He looks from the bird laying in his left hand to the cigarette straight and smoldering in his right, and then down to me. His grin is wide, white, beaming. “Iʼve gotten so much better at this since you left,” he says, tossing the body a couple inches into the air. A splatter of blood drips past his knee, dribbles down the roof and into the trough. “Well, good for you darling, good for you. Iʼm a very proud teacher.”
He twists the neck again just to be sure of Maggieʼs demise before tossing the deformed body to his empty lawn chair. It lands with a thump, feathers left poking out at awkward angles. A sudden fine mist of something swatches my face. Blood. Fucking blood has sprayed on the sweater, again, those arenʼt paint stains, and when I wipe my fingers across my nose they come away red. Scarlet, not cerise, scarlet, blood. “Oh for fucks sake Bentley James watch what you are doing, this sweater-” “It was already stained from before you left, donʼt be such a priss. Fuck, Iʼve got blood on my fucking hands,” Bent plants his cig in his lips as he slides down the rooftop in sections, wiping his bloodied hands on the black Ralph Lauren polo I bought him. Last year, his birthday. Itʼs too surreal that heʼs wearing the birthday shirt. “Go on.” “Ok, first off, get me a towel, Iʼve got blood on my face thanks to you. Is it in my hair? If itʼs in my hair I swear-” “Nah, itʼs nothing,” Bent jumps to the deck and off of it in leaps to wipe his hands on the dewy grass. He rejoins me to move the bird to the floor between us, nudging it with his big toe. “Come here.” “Hold this,” he mumbles, handing me his cigarette. He takes hold of my face the same way he did Maggieʼs, a firm hand on each side. Instead of a twist his thumb stretches to wipe off the smudge from my nose and without even thinking he pops it in his mouth and sucks the digit clean. For a moment he is abashed, he is adorable, and then he goes back into hiding. He grabs his cig and slides back into his chair, flicking ash in-between the cracks in the slats. “There, youʼre all better and beautiful again, now finish the story. Then breakfast,” he nods nonchalantly at Maggie. At Pie-Pie. At breakfast. “It was all a dead end, again. End of story.” “Thatʼs too bad. How was the place? The wildlife?” Bent is mocking me. The only wildlife in the area were poodles and children and he knows this. “Didnʼt get to see any of it, I was too busy starving to death and finding new ways to sneak out at night. You have no clue the hoops I jumped through just to feed myself. The dick I had to suck.” “What?” “Kidding. Little joke. Just saying that it was hard living off of baby sparrows for weeks.” “Donʼt joke like that Simon, its shameful. Iʼm sorry, really. Here,” Bent kneels near the bird corpse, eyeing it with his head cocked, “want a wing to start?” “The middle bits, Iʼm starved.” He disappears into the kitchen, reappearing in the wide windows. The bread knife and cutting board are brought out and Maggie is sectioned into head, body, wings. Bent saws its single pathetic leg off and flicks the bent black twig onto an ant pile in the pansies.
“Look at her,” he inspects the dismembered head with a face of wonder, pulling at the tiny bird tongue, “its like the eyes never stop watching you.” This is true, as Maggieʼs wet black eye still appears to stare though her face is now comical with the tongue left hanging from the slack black beak. “Donʼt be morbid,” I admonish. My words. I tip back and drink from the torso as one would from a gourd, let the warm insides slide out. The tiny heart has barely stopped beating before it hits my tongue, a little tough. Rubbery. Blood runs down the front of the torso, staining the white feathers red and shining on the black ones like oil on tarmac. “For a first meal back, thatʼs not bad.” With two fingers inside of the wet hot opening of Maggieʼs neck, they rip it wider and pull out the other tiny organs. The little liver, the lungs. “Youʼve got blood running all the way to your elbows and you give me shit for manners.” “Youʼve got something in your teeth, there,” I motion scratching at my left canine until Bent picks loose a ligament stuck there. “Thanks, dickpiece,” he must be rolling his eyes, “if you clean up quick, we can go before most other people are up, avoid the rush. Iʼll throw your stuff in the laundry for you.” “Thanks babe, youʼre the best.” I blow a wet, bloody, raspberry kiss towards Bent to which he smiles, cheeky bastard. Our bloodied clothes are added to the pile in the master bedroom bathroom suite. Maud the maid is too good to ask questions about spray patterns on cotton or splatter on silk. The hot water gets to pouring and for the first time in days I feel whole again. In the safe hot cube of the shower stall I wonder if now is a good time to masturbate, but decide against it. Bent will want to leave as soon at the feathers and bones are buried. For the first time in days, weeks, there is no hollow pit, no nausea. Blood so fresh reawakens my eyes and fills the colours into my world. There is a hollow pit inside me, the shape and size of a human heart perhaps, and only blood can fill it up. There is a thing inside me, the shape and size of a brick like a bruise on my mind that is only quieted by this violence, by spatter and stains. The doctors, the doctors told me it was natural at first. The lack of appetite. Bentʼs mother Caroline suggested that perhaps I would eat more if the food was properly blessed. Without the Lordʼs blessing all food turns to ash on the tongues of the damned in Hell may have been the original quote, but it is important never to take anything Caroline James says as truth because most of it involves the Bible. Bent, Bent started off asking if I was depressed, as in,
“Simon, if youʼre depressed you know that you can tell me, right?” “Why would I be depressed,” I would slur, “when everything is just so fucking wonderful here?”
This was me, and I wouldnʼt even know where ʻhereʼ was. “That was your second bottle of wine, Simon, and itʼs not even midnight.” This was Samantha or Christina or Becky or someoneʼs Halloween party. This was me dry heaving up nothing. “Itʼs only Wednesday and this is the third time this week Iʼll have to drag your ass home drunk. What the heck is wrong with you?” “Heck? Hell Bentley, hell for fucks sakes itʼs hell, Jesus fucking Christ, and thatʼs only if the week begins on Sunday, but my week is not constrained by the difference between a weekday and a weekend.” Like I said, this was me one step away from being a rolling-in-your-own-shit sort of drunk. “Iʼm thirsty and there��s nothing that can cure it so I drink and drink and itʼs doesnʼt ever go away.” This was me, sobbing my heart out an hour later, begging Bent in a drunken stupor for something more. Anything, vermouth, pour it in me. Gasoline, please, orange juice, gin. I escaped him for a moment when he went to say his goodbyes to Anna and snuck as many free PBRʼs from Catherine or Bobby or whoeverʼs fridge. These were drunk in an alley before blacking out some point later in my own backyard. Stay hydrated, said the doctors, remember your eight glasses, son. Come back if it gets worse. Sucking on ice day and night, I couldnʼt tell if that was what the meant by worse. I woke up to Rocky watching me. Rocky, the old dog. Poor dog. He sat by the gate softly growling, looking cornered. And me still in my suicide attempt costume, fake blood dried in lines on my wrists. “This isnʼt funny,” Bent had whispered when he had to wipe the shit off, wash my hair for me. Too weak to sit up in the shower and still too drunk to just fall back asleep, I called him to come and clean me up before the sun even rose the next morning. “What?” “The cuts. The costume.” “I thought it was hil-arious. Just hilarious. Donʼt you?” Drunk me, impersonating my Mother. “Itʼs not funny,” he mumbled, “it hurts.” My laughter was slow to die. Bent wasnʼt wearing a Halloween costume as they were respect for the Devil and Satanʼs day of evil incarnate only your friend that demon epicenter of Hell would even dare dress up like that for it. Carolineʼs words. Instead he was in a light blue button up, a church shirt to hide in. My fingers had undone the top two buttons from it, three, had felt at cloth wrapped beneath. “I thought your parents sent you to inpatient for this,” I said, “for your little problem.” “Itʼs not funny,” Bent had mumbled but not fought as I picked at the cloth and pulled it down. His mothers thousand count sheets cut to strips only to be used for dressings and stained. “You used the Egyptian cotton for this?” I was disbelieving. “Why are you such an insufferable drunk?”
Thatʼs what his parents called it, his little problem. He moved on from it for a time but had reverted in the end, only this time playing tic-tac-toe with a razor or a sharp pen, in a pinch, on his chest rather than his arms. His forearms were close to pristine now since the scars had faded angry scarlet to the palest pink. “Donʼt know, canʼt care,” I mumbled, transfixed. The shirt hung wide open as the linen strips piled upon my kitchen table. In the quiet of the moment, Bentʼs eyes wandered to mine but I was quelling the urge to curl in the fetal position on the floor. Or into his arms.
Thatʼs what his parents called it, his little problem.
“What's it to you?”
A cloud of something that cannot be fully explained washed over his face. Something between grief and anger, hurt and rage. The fringe of his hair fell low so that the furrow in his brow was hidden, though the twitch of a frown fell on his lips. Lips bitten chapped and bleeding, a habit he picked up from me. Pretending to be embarrassed, to care. “Why do you do it,” I asked as a single deep gash among all the other scratches bled, began to bleed again. The tips of my fingers on his chest, letting the blood curl around them and continue to drip ever downwards. “I need it like I need to run, itʼs like fight or flight. Instinct. No, deeper than instinct,” Bent on a tangent, eyes staring nowhere, “itʼs like when youʼre enraged enough to rip off someoneʼs head or you just want to fuck someone, itʼs like when you come, its like a thousand times worse than just pain, itʼs just this urge-” Right about then I dragged a single finger up his chest, through the blood, coating the tip. Bent watched in pensive silence as I coated my lips with it before licking at my bottom lip with just the tip of my tongue. Like lipstick, a stain. “Slower,” heʼd said. I licked my lip, slowly, as directed. At this point the taste of blood, warm blood, was just beginning to be electric. It was better now than when we had become blood brothers a decade ago. The identical scars in the palms of our hands, steak knife piercings, our wounds pushed together to force the blood to mix. Me, licking at the palm to clean it, Bent doing the same. Both of us registering that this was only similar to sucking on a clean penny. “Better,” Bent had said then, “than a steak.” “Delicious,” I murmured ten years later, and suddenly the thirst was gone. Like the sun coming from behind a cloud, like a fog of days and weeks had finally lifted, the thirst was gone. A finger running through Bentʼs blood just beneath the pretty little lines he had drawn. His eyes followed its path back into my mouth and I sucked it dry. Eight glasses a day my ass, liters a day. Just water, just to get by. And the ice as a diversionary tactic.
“For good skin and great hair,” I would lie to Anna and people like her.
“Youʼre just so vain Simon,” she would sigh, “like you need it. Shut up, I mean, god, youʼve got the best hair, you were like born into it.” My hair had begun to fall out in silvery nets, spiders webs tacked between fingers at the end of a shower. These would get plastered to the wall, wiped off later with a piece of toilet paper and thrown into the garbage like so many conditioned hairballs. Worse than allergies, worse than a psychological condition, food didnʼt fill the pit. I had eaten, I ate, but no matter how I cleared my plate, the thirst was there, a hunger for this. For wet warm delicious life, for this. “What did you even eat today?” Bent asked after I passed out on the way to the bathroom, splitting my forehead on the marble corner of a water fountain. This is six months ago, this is me an astonishing wreck. “Water. A coffee, gum. Ice. Three advil and a gravol. Why?” The scar is still there, raised pink. Alone in the basement bathroom of St. Germaineʼs school Bent had kissed at the cut. His fingers carefully parted the hair to my scalp, patted the slice with a damp paper towel. I caught him licking at his thumb afterward and he had only shrugged. “You need to eat,” heʼd said. He licked at the blood that ran down my brow, wetting his lips with it, breathing slow. I had fought the urge to lick the blood off his lips, my blood. “I want to,” I had whispered. Bent standing between my thighs, his hands heavy on top of them. Hot, I remember, hot. My legs dangling over the ledge of the countertop and pressed there by heavy hands, hot even through the fabric. He licked at his lips, then at another drop dangling from my brow. Lapped, even. As a dog. My good little puppy. “I want to,” I repeated. When he kissed me then it was like discovering water for the first time. Like finding god or gold or mecca, the taste of blood on his lips was like an orgasm in flavor form.
We donʼt question why it is good.
That night I took a shovel to our next door neighbours pet rabbit, Hopper, and couldnʼt ever go back to lettuce or crème brule, to carbs like cardboard. Fuck cream sauces or tiny little maki rolls. Give me a hare to catch. Let me finally shut up that yapping sharpei next door, and gorge on the hottest, freshest food on earth. Show me an open wound and I will literally eat your heart out. I was not always a malnourished starving child from the Save the Children ads. Yet here I am with a rumor going around the school that I have either AIDS or leukemia. H1N1. SARS.
Just total end of the world shit, these kids live for death. Stephanie Holloway or Brian Kirk or Rose McCarthy was going to throw a surprise party and fundraiser for me because it would make everyone else in the school feel better, if only they could figure out what was wrong with me. How stoic, they thought, how brave. My days spent fasting, nights spent lurking in back alleys or backyards. The chase, the hunt, the sweet hot delicious kill, the conceal. Fuck off. In the end the doctors told me to take my iron supplements, but they just gave me the shits.
Out on the open road, Ray Bans still firmly in place, Bent drives so fast that it is too loud to speak. Our hair is consistently tousled; we are an ad for mouse, for shine spray, for leave in conditioner with aloe vera and heat activated technology. We are mirror images and opposites selling you our outfits, the beemer, the B&H slims and Parliament 100ʼs in our grasps. We are mannequinʼs allowed to drive. Beauty is made dangerous by thought; we are not brainless. Every window wide open, sunroof slid back, this early in the morning and right after breakfast, weʼre too satiated to want music. We are for once calm. Itʼs a small blessing that when Bent and I are apart we are simply apart, and when we are together we are together. That is all. Even without the music or conversation the ride is not uncomfortable. When I light a cigarette I hold it out first for him to suck a drag so he can keep both hands on the steering wheel, and we say nothing. Bent and I have always had this strange sort of understanding between us.
When my Father and I had first moved into the neighbourhood Bent was the only other child of a similar age on the block. His mother brought home baked chocolate chip cookies which went stale in a tin on the counter. Iʼve always been allergic to chocolate and Caroline James. Bent had stood behind his mother in the doorway just as shyly as I had hidden behind my Fatherʼs thick trunks for legs. I could see him in the space through Fatherʼs knees, watch him hold onto the hem of his mothers print dress for support, and I had been so jealous that he could trust her. He hadnʼt had to wear a tiny gold cross around his neck yet because children donʼt have to be tethered to God to be good.
His mother also had a fear of young Bentley strangling himself to death by accident, among other things. This fear was almost founded in that Bentleyʼs older brother Brian, the third in the Jameʼs family run of seven boys, had strangled himself at age six with a dog leash. “An accident, an accident,” was all the women on the block would say about it. “Nothing they could do, an accident.”
“Some children,” Father had explained to me, “just arenʼt meant long for this world.”
“Well,” Father had pinched the bridge of his nose, poured himself something strong. I could smell it from what is called the family room.
“Youʼre still here, arenʼt you?”
Brian, Bentleyʼs dear departed brother, had been play-acting as a dog around the yard, had taken off the leash. A bright red leash that attached to a chain collar. Fido, the dog was called, not that thatʼs of any importance. Brian had put it on and run about for only a minute while his mother washed the bay windows and before you knew it Brian was dead, young, the end of the leash caught on the edge of the back porch railing. Brian dangling.
His feet, Bent told me a couple years later, his feet broke off all the tulips heads from his kicking. His thrashing just completely totaled the garden. “The first thing that happened when my Mother found Brian was she dropped the wash bucket and said ʻWill you look at the tulips.ʼ Thatʼs it. That was as far as her brain could go.” Me being the new kid, I didnʼt know that this had happened only a couple of weeks ago. The memories strongest emotion is an overwhelming sense of want, of wanting whatever it was that Bent had. I wanted to own him like a pet and to become adopted into the sort of family that baked cookies and could touch one another. My aversion to touch was well established, but it wasnʼt touch I couldnʼt stand. It was people.
I wanted to own Bentley forever.
“Slow down,” I yell over the wind roaring at us, “cops.” I point to a white van parked at the side of the road, and Bent just shrugs. He either didnʼt hear me or doesnʼt care, and either way I donʼt warn him again. “Not my car. They never check the date or time of a ticket.” We roar past the ghost car fifty over the limit. Bent speeds up further, not smiling. “Itʼs gonna rain,” yells Bent, but I wonʼt respond. He knows that I know its coming, can feel it. A shiver runs down my spine, and itʼs the dark of the clouds that make Bent drive so fast.
“Weʼll make it,” he yells.
The first we truly met was during a rainstorm. I had once been told that thunder could turn you deaf. Fathers words. Father was gone and the house was far more frightening empty than it had any right to be. Branches had been ripped from the Russian olive trees, rotting sweet and lying in brambles on the driveway. The power soon went too, as it often does. Rain was overwhelming in a good way, it trumped all other emotions. One feels fear and awe and wonder and nothing more. I loved the rain because with the water came worms. Worms drowning with no chance of survival unless a benevolent being such as myself saved them one by one. My eyes scoured pavement for the pinkish bodies, soft and fat or stretched straight like they were in rictus, in pain. Tiny fingers, mine, long and spider-like collected them by the fistful and deposited them in the gardens earth by the front door. There were gnarled roots of the lilac bushes for the worms to wriggle on above the soaked garden floor, and there I laid them. Bent wandered over in a yellow rain slicker. His hair black as onyx, shockingly dark, it reminded me of my Mother. Her soft black hair, she used to joke over the phone with me that I couldnʼt be hers unless I was albino. “Iʼm not your Mother, just look at you,” sheʼd say on her visits, her hands tousling my blonde with the scent of tar and tobacco, her breath minty from juleps, not breath fresheners. Bent looked the way I was supposed to, looked like how I imagined all my brothers would look if I had any. Back then Bent used a shy smile to say hello, held back until invited. I had looked around for an answer, an explanation for the need of chaos to drown my mind in, to save something innocent and helpless, to remain in danger. That my house was not a home and my Father not the man everyone thought he was and that the storm was more comforting than my family or room or television or games. That this terror felt absolutely wonderful.
“Worms,” I said, pointing at the gutter, “theyʼre drowning.”
And that was that. We didnʼt speak much but played heroes until the sun was nearly down. With a pile of roiling worms at last safe on the lawn, I had picked the fattest, reddest one and held it out to him.
“For you,” I had said, intending it as a gift for his garden. Maybe for the decimated tulips.
Bent had taken it, confused, and smiled a little before biting the thing in half. He grimaced for a moment before swallowing and laughing louder than I assumed he could, laughed from someplace deep.
“Now you,” he had said, “your turn. Then weʼll be friends.”
And who was I to say no?
Bentʼs parents liked me for my quietness. After we swallowed the half worms, wriggling still as they slid involuntarily down our esophagi, Bent had brought me over and Caroline had made us cocoa, which I drank to be polite. She doesnʼt know it, but I threw it all up among her destroyed tulip plot. The drink, and the soft pink grey body. “Bentley, you can say grace tonight,” Caroline beamed at me, her big warm Christian smile. I had copied her and folded my hands as Bent recited the words, not understanding the point of waiting before eating. I had wondered if this strange woman thought that by saying a chant over this meal it would save me from sickness later, but said nothing.
Bentʼs parents liked me for my being quiet.
That was the beginning of the turn toward fanaticism for the family. Caroline began to see the signs of the devil sprouting up everywhere. Even without catching me blowing chunks of her chocolate chip cookies made soft and brown by the cocoa, even without knowing what I did on the plot of her sonʼs death, it didnʼt take Caroline long to hate me proper. “Simon, why donʼt you say grace tonight,” she had smiled at me over dinner, the last I would have at the James home. This is age eight, age twelve. It doesnʼt matter.
“No thank you,” I replied, unfolding my hands.
“Excuse me?” Caroline had continued to smile but her left eye twitched. A giveaway.
“Lies of omission are slightly better than lies spoken aloud. It probably pisses your god off slightly less that I say nothing at all.” I must have been at least twelve to have said piss to her face. This is after Caroline had caught Bent and I sharing a smoke in my backyard. One of his brother Jeremyʼs, a Benson & Hedges Silver. Or was it gold?
“Whatʼs the first cig we snuck from your brother?”
“What?” Bent is fiddling with the FM dial, trying to pick up the signal from his iPod. All he manages is to go from static to people speaking Ukranian and back to static again.
“What does your brother Jeremy smoke, again?”
“No reason. Let me do that,” I grab the iPod from its shifting position in front of the stick shift, but Bent is still twisting the dial back and forth. “No, wait, I almost-” he looks at me for a moment and then the road and we drift left for just a moment before he readjusts and thatʼs when we
Something that must the size and weight of a child, a small one, smacks into the bumper and gets pulled under the wheels, weʼre still going way too fast, something, we speed over the lump twice
Like a heartbeat - there one second, gone the next.
the sound replays in my mind, on repeat, it speeds up with my pulse.
“What, the fuck,” Bent swerves to the right, his foot edging at the break pedal, “tell me that was a bird, what, the fuck, oh my fuck. Holy fuck, mother of god, what did I just kill.”
“Hit,” I correct, “hit. Maybe itʼs not dead.”
“Fuck, that would be worse. I think.”
I readjust the dial as we come to complete stop and press play on the iPod.
“You had it on hold,” I say softly, “it wasnʼt playing.”
“Thanks, oh my fuck,” Bent is still staring and chanting obscenities.
“A remix?” I ask. My voice is clear and even but my hands are shaking furiously. Inside the cage of his ribs Bentʼs heart looks about to beat itself free, his shirt reverberates with the bass, with his heartbeat.
“Nah,” he whispers, “I have no clue. Yes. I donʼt know.”
“Thatʼs okay,” I say.
We sit a moment, clicking to release our seat belts, exit the car. A truck speeds past us and honks at Bent, he doubles back to turn on the hazard lights. “You better start praying that that guy in the truck did not just drive by a half dead child on the road or something. That would make him even worse than us.”
Bent is distracted as he trots back to the spot where the thing must be. I let him run ahead, losing the sound of his feet on the gravel as he crests and passes a hill. I stop to light another cigarette. It takes three flicks of the flint to get the thing to light as shaking hands belie my calm exterior.
Bent swears under his breath. From what I can see, whatever it is has been knocked into the brush or is hiding there. The thing, Thing, The Thing. He paces back and forth only to look every so often into the grass before covering his mouth and looking away again.
“Oh, fuckshit,” he mutters, “itʼs Kelly.”
“Kelly who? Kelly Ripa? Kelly the slut from chem? Kelly who?”
I snap my fingers at Bent and speak slowly,
“Kelly the Jacksonʼs dog Kelly, thatʼs what you twat.”
A smile takes over my face and I relax enough to crack my neck, let all the tenseness built up slide away.
“What the fuss, I thought we just killed a person. In context, this is fantastic.”
My hands stop their shaking enough for me to get the Bic to light on the first try for Bent, for his cigarette. We peek into the highway side brush, and behold Kelly, Thing, or what is left of it.
“They are not going to want that back,” I say.
“What is this dog doing all the way out the fuck here?” Bent says.
“Your guess. What breed was it?”
“Golden retriever, I think. What do you mean was? She still is, unless,” Bent takes a step closer before retreating back to our safe distance, “aw shit, sheʼs still alive.”
Almost on cue, Kelly makes a sort of sound like a huff. Bent backs away and begins to tap his foot, flicking the lid of his lighter on and off, he stares at the skies and huffs like it does,
“First of all that,” I motion with a fluttering hand to the brush, “that is now an it, not a she. Itʼs a pile of fur and teeth and bone and blood and meat, nothing more. Kelly the dog is dead and you and I just found lunch.”
“I am not eating roadkill.”
“It is not roadkill because itʼs not even dead yet. We should fix that.”
Bent looks up and away at the clouding grey skies.
“Come on Simon, we canʼt eat that. Thatʼs Maxʼs dog for fuckʼs sake. We have to see Max every other day.” “Correction, you have to see Max every other day. I am half starved to death, and would appreciate something fresh. Wouldnʼt you?” Bent looks pained. His eyes dart between the bloody thing in the brush, the streak already turning brownish black on the highway, shining lenses flick at me, look past me. I know that the smell is enough, like wet copper. Deep down inside, Bent is not really torn up about this. He just feels the need to feign humanity .
“Fine. But you have to kill her,”
“Whatever,” Bent begins to walk double time back towards the car, “Iʼll get you the tire jack.”
“No need,” I call back to him, but he either doesnʼt hear me or doesnʼt care, and it doesnʼt matter which. I stroll down into the ditch, closer to Thing, the better to kill it, pop my cuffs. My torso is exposed under the grey light and each blue vein crisscrossing, expanding and releasing, pumping, shows up in sharp relief under my skin. I can trace them from start to finish.
Sunscreen, I should really pick up some sunscreen.
“Note to self,” I mumble to the Thing, “SPF 50.”
Thing was hit by the right side of the car and the blow knocked it to the side of the road. It must have edged herself, itself, whatever, into the grass before giving out. The eyes are wide to the white and staring, although the ability to bark has been abruptly ended by her jawʼs meeting with at least one car tire. “Look at you, what a mess,” I mutter. Taking hold of the neck with both hands I pull the body further into the grass. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Bent is suddenly standing behind me, wielding a bitchstick in his one hand and a tire iron in his
The dog is heavier than I thought, but doesnʼt struggle. It doesnʼt have the spinal connections right now to even try. With one last heave I pull the body so that it lies between my spread legs. Blood and grit have mixed along with chunks of fur on my palms, sticky and abrasive.
“Sheʼs staring at me Simon. Just kill her.”
“Whatever. Here, take this,” he motions the tire iron at me, but I bat it away.
I need this.”
Bent, trying to preserve his humanity. Bent, still wary of this. Still eating Sunday dinner with a blessing and a fork and knife. Both wanting to be me and afraid of where this leads, what I am, what this does to a person. I am unafraid. In the cool bleak light of day I hunch over the carcass on all fours and bite, rip, tear at its throat. Blood spurts and the single attached back leg kicks. I bite again, no longer through tufted fur and skin but through cartilage and muscle and the leg goes stiff and still, falls silent. Blood ceases to pump on rhythm with my heart and this is the best feeling in the world, this moment. For the predator, and the prey. “Letʼs bring it home for later.” I say, breathing harsh. No need to control this, my ribs expand and protrude with each gasp and god I like it. “Weʼll have to get garbage bags at the store, and a fucking wet wipe for your face. Whereʼs your shirt?” “I really shouldnʼt have to do this in Jil Sander, you know.” I nod towards the shirt for Bent to grab, and after all that exertion Kelly is left in a pile at the side of the road. A trail of tiny red ants already stomps towards the chunk of leg or paw or something at the edge of the road.
“If weʼre quick it wonʼt start raining before we get back.”
“And she wonʼt be a putrid mess. Wipe your face, seriously, youʼre looking very Ed Gein right
We re-enter the car. I wipe at my face until the blood is only a stain on the skin ringing my mouth rather than a wet red target screaming LOOK AT ME LOOK WHAT I DID but this leaves my hands a wretched mess, so I cross them and remain shirtless, hands perched on my knees as we continue to fly down the highway.
“Didnʼt even dent the bumper,” Bent yells at me over the roar of wind and synth and bass. I light another cigarette and try and wipe the hair whipping at my eyes out of the way. We havenʼt removed the sunglasses, they are protection from each others looks. The back of my hand is still sticky slick and the side mirror reveals a smudge of red against my temple. The music and wind and tar and smoke and blood are too much. I cannot care about the smudge or the hair in my teeth. I want a glass of merlot and to fuck the brains out of Bent in front of my fireplace, on the bearskin. I want to burn all the brush to smoke out the animals and to give chase, to rend and rip and tear and kill and gorge myself. I want everything all at once and nothing at all.
“Sweet,” I scream back.
Grocery shopping is a quick affair – Bent canʼt stand shopping of any sort for more than a couple of minutes – and the only time wasted is when I have to duck down and hide in the back long enough for him to grab a pack of WetWipes from the Macʼs, and when we disagree on the features of skim milk over soy.
I ring us through with the platinum as Bent receives a phone call.
“Hello,” he says, “oh yes, Mother.”
He rolls his eyes at the cashier, a lovely boy of maybe sixteen, and the kid blushes. Honest to fuck this is Bentʼs appeal to people. He confuses even the most steadfastly ordinary people into questioning whether theyʼre really, truly sure of what they like in life. What is it you want, boy? The girl on the magazine cover who will never ever fuck you or those lips, the eyes you wish to see behind black glass? “Yes, everythingʼs fine,” Bent pretends to read the back of a case of Excel gum as I sign for everything – sixteen bags of food I already know that I wonʼt be able to eat. All for rot.
Carolineʼs voice is not amused, and she raises it towards the end of the conversation just loud enough that the three of us overhear,
“- well thatʼs just great darling, enjoy your life-”
Bent snaps the phone shut and takes the receipt from the cashier, smiling his thanks. Idle hands, Bent thinks, he pops the knuckles. We exit the store, Bent loaded down with every bag but one and still smiling to himself. “I have the feeling there was an in hell just waiting to be released on you, yeah?” I ask, Bent nods, still smiling. “Nothing like Sunday morning not spent in Church. According to Motherʼs calculations Iʼm only a couple weeks away from never scratching my way out of Hell.”
“A lot can happen in such a short time,” I say, “just you watch.”
“Yeah, like the checkout guy and I could–”
We smile, don glasses, make our escape. Faraway thunder claps and sends shivers up my spine, the smell of the ocean and ozone is too much, and we are speeding back far too fast. Kelly is Bentʼs duty to stuff into two heavy duty black plastic bags, and we leave the empty WetWipes pack along with the blood streak on the road and a half eaten front leg as the only signs that we have ever been here, ever caused any harm. We pull into the driveway just as the rain begins to lash down and run inside to hide, to test, to experiment. Just as the nausea begins to return and I canʼt tell if itʼs hunger or fear, random bubbling fear of the rain, of water, we share the remains of once loved Kelly on the kitchen floor and all is well again.
This is therapy. This is bliss. This is life.
These Ribs Arenʼt Photoshopped Sunday goes, then Monday. I experiment with pill combinations, resulting in a combined eighteen hours of sleep and laying once on top of the baby grand in a near catatonic state, unable to move but open to stare. I compose a song which is titled ʻKellyʼ written in C sharp minor, my favorite key. Bent is at track, swimming, driving his little brother to school, from school, bible study, with Anna, fucking Anna, eating and drinking normal things with Anna, all of which I drown out sufficiently until he reappears Tuesday night. In this time I have eaten a T-bone steak and one leg of lamb, raw, frozen and congealed. I have not vomited in two days, the first two in a row since only something knows when, but when Bent lays out the bulk of our shopping excursions food choices my stomach roils. The sky threatens rain again but hasnʼt began to drip yet so I cannot blame the nausea on it. “Letʼs do this in groups,” he says, “fruits and vegetables, grains and carbs, dairy, sugary foods, spicy, cooked meats and fish, and drinks. In that order, yeah?” “It doesnʼt matter,” I pinch the bridge of my nose and begin breathing deeply, eight in, eight out, “itʼs all going to end up in the fucking trash in five minutes anyway.” “Or bland to spiced? Your choice.” Bent ignores me completely. “I do know, in fact, that this will not work. Thatʼs why I donʼt eat this shit anymore, it tastes like cardboard-” “Yeah, well you eat cardboard donʼt you, rather than a piece of toast.” “Excuse me, you donʼt seem to understand the meaning of the words violently allergic or starvation do you, because if you did you could get it through your flipping skull-” “Simon!” This is Anna interrupting, Anna suddenly in my house, perfect, beautiful, shining Anna coming at me with a hug that reeks of nail polish remover and hairspray. Her cashmere sweater is soft against my skin, her breasts a cushion between my sternum and hers as we embrace. “Oh my, you look just emaciated but so good, how is your skin so smooth and your hair oh, my, I mean, thatʼs not even peroxide and itʼs just so good right now, I need a cut, just look at these ends, look at you, I am just so excited to have you back,” Anna says all this in one long breath, even feigns genuine excitement towards the end. “Hello, Anna,” I pry her sharp fingers from my face and hair; dislodge from within three feet of her. “Oh, I just totally forgot to ask how are you? How are you, I mean, just look at all this, when did you get in, Bentley is just totally useless at this, heʼs told me nothing and I have just been dying to see you, I mean, just, wow, itʼs been so long,” Bent makes a move to conceal a gnawed dogs paw – leftovers from Kelly – in his pocket, and Anna catches the movement, continues speaking in the same tone, “what are you doing?”
With Anna in the room Bent and I cannot argue, cannot invoke anything even close to drama or her mouth might explode with excitement, tongue twisted into knots, heart gone ballistic. Bent looks at the groceries, the danishes and skim milk, Cheet-oʼs and raisin bran, bags upon tiny bags of spices, of oregano, cinnamon, produce piled high, and shrugs. “Nothing,” he smiles at her, “just-” “Oh, youʼre sick, itʼs a test, right? Aw, thatʼs just tragic, you should try cutting dairy, like you havenʼt already, sorry Iʼm so silly,” and Anna is patronizing me, she knows more than she letʼs on, she wants me to cut out everything, “I shouldnʼt stay, I just had to see you, be careful you know, your heart” Annaʼs high gloss thumb is already scrolling through contacts on her phone, she is grabbing her bag – new, Burberry, leather - from the back of a chair, excusing herself, “Keiraʼs older sister has had like two heart attacks this year, or maybe thatʼs Kirsten Bʼs, but Iʼll leave you two to this,” she gestures at the table without looking up, wiping a mascara smudge that isnʼt there from beneath her big brown doe eyes, “and Iʼll be seeing you later, oh, Simon, itʼs just so good that youʼre back, you know, and weʼre all together again, Bentley, walk me to the door yeah, Christie just cancelled dinner but, darn, ok, yeah, Meredith and James can meet me in ten at the Star-beeʼs,” and all of this
all of this is
all is just Anna wishing me death, swift death, to get out of her crystal clear life, to stop stealing her boyfriend late nights, to stop taking her glorious spotlight when the three of us go out, to just, like, you know, just stop being. Before I know it I have a passionfruit scented kiss planted on my cheek in a thick jelly, lipgloss, and Anna is smiling and re-varnishing them and I canʼt help but smile back at her through clenched teeth and suddenly she is gone. From the foyer come low voices, Bent and his goodbyes, and the sound of what could be a kiss on his lips. “Holy mother of fucking god Iʼm going back to spiking her drinks,” Bent mutters as he takes a seat, wiping at his cheek. So it was a kiss on the cheek, a peck. She had already ruined her lipgloss on me – she wasnʼt about to reapply it twice. “Please just take two of everything in the cupboard, I donʼt care if you inject her in her sleep just keep her far, far away from caffeine, excitement, and possibly me.” We take a moment to stare at the food before us, looking at the trash bin, empty and double lined with the thick plastic handi-bags that helped carry Kelly. Exhale. “This is anything but a Bentley James moment, Bentley James.” “Just call me nurse, Bent the nurse, nurse Bent. Now sit down and open up, weʼre starting with the Romaine, yes?” I sit at the table, plant the bucket in my lap, and take the head of lettuce from him. Sit, stare. Inhale. “Would you like that washed?”
“Donʼt be sarcastic.” I pick off a leaf, place it on my tongue, chew, swallow. Bent takes the seat next to mine. After a full minute passes without so much as a hiccup from me, he checks his watch and smiles. “I wasnʼt being,” his voice is soft, “sarcastic, that is. Give that another minute. Then, celery.” “Then what?” “Itʼs this brand new thing theyʼre calling food, donʼt you know-” “Shut up.” Somewhere along the line things runs afoul. The retching is usual but the rapid beating of my poor sick heart just goes on and on. Bent says nothing as his fingertips press against the dip of my neck, monitor the falling speed of the blood rushing beneath skin and tendon. "So, let's cut out starches," Bent breaks the silence, hands me a glass of water and a cloth for my mouth, "but salads! Imagine all the salads you can eat -"
"Yeah, those will keep me out of inpatient alright," I mutter and he pretends not to notice.
"How about a slice of apple? I'd put cinnamon on it, but if you're allergic to the cinnamon then we'd never know-" "Bent, let's just stop for tonight okay?" Something has moved outside the bay window - a bird perhaps, no, a hare darting across the yard. Fingers to throat, my heart has reawakened. "You can't go on like this Simon, you do know that, right? As in, you're going to die if you don't at least try." "Let's go, then," and I am on autopilot, bin to the side, legs walking, arms swinging. Bent grabs at a wrist and I twist free, break for the back door. The hare runs along the bottom of the back fence, sits in what it thinks is a hidden spot behind the great fir in the back corner. Its eyes are like snow, blue rings against the wide liquid black pupil and it is staring at me as I approach. Domesticated rabbit. It will sit nearly still until I am too close, until it is too late, there is no chance for "Oh, thank goodness," a woman's voice is behind me, yards away, and a hand is at my wrist again. It is Bent, whispering something to me that through the haze I do not hear. He tugs at my arm, wants me to stay behind and leave things be and I cannot, not this close. "We've been looking all over, thank heavens, the kids will be so pleased to get Sunny back," the woman is still gushing, she is in the Fuller's backyard, her feet carrying too much weight crunch on the mulch under the russian olive tree. Without looking back I can tell this woman will recognize me, Bent, that she is one of them, the Women, the doting mothers sucking back T3's with their morning coffees.
"Please," Bent is whispering, "control yourself."
The inside of my mouth is exploding, there is wet warmth flowing and I have bitten the inside my lip I am trying to hard not to scream from frustration, not to grab the stupid floppy thing and twist its soft neck until there is a crack, until there is blood that is not my own to drink and something hot delicious to eat, I crave food, the hunger will not stop.
I stop. Stoop, lean forward on my knees and grab the trembling sack of flesh and fur, its eyes so wide that the whites are showing, hind legs kicking furiously at me.
"Oh, thank heavens it's you. Simon, Bentley, how are you boys doing?"
"Great Mrs. Simpson, how has Mr. Simpson been doing lately?"
That is Bent speaking, turning around to smile wide and shiny, hand casually turning me, a gentle push forward. The rabbit is hers, not mine to kill, or eat, it is not my property, that's what the push is saying. Give, says Bent. "Oh, well his golf swing isn't what it used to be, but we're all doing fine. The kids are out for the summer and somebody let Sunny out on the lawn and then one hop became two, and here we are. How are you doing, Simon? You're looking," and then she stumbles but the smile stays plastered on her face, "better. You and I look like we could use some sun though, compared to this one!" This one being Bent, being healthy, being a tone not known to ghosts or vampires. She means to say that I look ill as shit and that the albinism is showing through, though I don't have it. She means that I look anemic and should really, really eat her rabbit rare. "Sure do, everybody looks pale compared to him though," and I smile through clenched teeth before I remember the blood and lick it off front but Mrs. Simpson hasn't noticed, doesn't care, she is already turning to go. "Give my best to your parents," she says, as though they were here for me to speak to. As though I would give them anyone's best.
"Will do," I lie.
My stomach growls shortly before Bent's does the same, and the game is won.
"Let's go," he says, "park. The park."
And the world is ours.
The End (Pt. 0)
The first thing I notice about Bent are his feet, naked, pale, bare. I stop to stare at them from the doorway, standing awkwardly among little mirrors of rainwater caught on slivers of glass. Shards litter happy pictures that used to adorn the marble mantelpiece. All broken now, ripped and torn, wet and curling at the edges. He is yet to even look up at me and if he could avoid it he probably wouldnʼt look at all. Bent sits on the single upright chair of the room with one leg dangling above the shrapnel left on the kitchen floor. His feet are shiny white, clean, ten little toes. Miraculously these are not bleeding, cut only by ribbons of dull pink and blue veins sheathed in his wax paper skin. His face is hidden behind yellowed newspaper sheets left out in the rain, dried now in ripples and waves. He notices the grating sound as my foot knocks into something - the oak cutting board- and folds the paper on the table.
And always, as always, he looks so composed.
"Hello," he says, "I'm sorry about last night."
My mind says speak but my mouth doesnʼt know the words. No words. “You look surprised at the mess,” his voice is glass on traintracks, is gravel stuck in your knee. Something terrible has happened to Bentʼs throat because his voice is the aftermath of huffing sand. “No, the mess isnʼt the least surprising.” I stand and stare feeling aware yet still out of place. This space feels no time, I cannot be sure if this is morning or noon because there is a memory just out of reach.
Bent says nothing, he has begun to talk but Iʼve found my words, they flow.
“Iʼm only confused at how happy we are in these pictures. Itʼs deceitful to pretend that we were once that happy.”
Bent is wincing with each cough, his eyes water.
“You should be wearing shoes in here.” It's all I can think, how did he get to the table with no shoes? The dust coating everything is lethal, full of tiny shards ready to pierce and splinter into a thousand tiny more.
Cough, cough, hack, swallow.
“You know how much Father hates it when you smoke in here.” "Your Father is no longer going to be a problem," Bent's foot swings as a pendulum, back and forth
back, over glass,
forth, over chipped china,
"he is gone for good."
And it's now that I notice a dripping. A faucet is leaking, a faucet is always leaking in this house of blasted sand and stone and steel, I do not know how he stands it. The dripping is incessant. I look down at the picture at my feet, of he and I years younger. Our smiles weren't yet forced. Torn, wet, and ragged, Bent will probably ask me to burn it. This was where we are supposed to say goodbye, I can feel it, but neither of us bother. It never works when you say it and donʼt mean it and neither of us will ever, ever have. Bent was mine the moment I saw him, to own forever. Better than a pet, a friend, less than nothing. I choose this moment to step forward and decide that I have to kiss him, must kiss him, mustn't run away and hide and pretend that everything is fine. It is an urge, a calling, a duty, so I take the three steps that separate us and run a hand across his face and pull him towards me, hands carding the soft hairs at the back of his neck and suddenly there is blood. Blood running from his lips, swollen to bursting like over-ripened raspberries, his mouth is a viscous black hole in his ashen face. Blood thickly streaming from tears in the skin. Blood runs tar black down his chin, and pools like mottled ink around his eyes, they are blackened and swollen up too, it's a wonder he can see. I do not spit; I know this taste, his taste. I should be sick from it but am not. The dripping is incessant. This sudden stream is too much, blood replaces the water on the floor, the raindrops caught on the windows, the speckles on my jacket. He is pouring out his lifesblood everywhere, it runs past the sieve of his fingers intertwined, they try to stop the flow and he falls to his knees weeping in it, confused, my hand still comforting on his cold clammy neck. This isn't right. Bent is doubled coughing blood with these sounds of a wolf choking on bone and I am next to him murmuring words that mean absolutely nothing, words, mere words, words are for nothing. And still more there is blood, blood soaking the ripped knees of my jeans, thick red and brownish black, building from pinpricks in his palms and spreading thread to thread through the fabric of his thin white t-shirt, it sticks to him like sweat. The shards are inside him, embedded in those fleshy joints and I will do anything to pull them out and wrap him up in starched and bleached cloth, to stop this regurgitation, but there is blood on my hands and I am too late, always too late, but we haven't said goodbye yet and the overwhelming sound of dripping is driving me insane. There is a sound, something rolling on the floor. Among this horrible mess is something hard and small, glowing gold. A circle big and round as the moon rolling in ever smaller circles until it shakes out a last couple and falls still and silent. A wedding ring. I wonder among all the mess where the finger could possibly be. Whether knuckles are digestible. The dripping cuts through my thoughts and at this point it could be anything; the rain on cracked concrete outside, the blood running tar black into the heating vent.
This is how I wake up.
“I am,” I have speak just to check, “very much so alive.”
Bent is at the front door early, heather grey shirt paired with that awful fucking black jacket of his, cigarette burns at the cuffs, hood pulled up. His eyes are hidden behind glazed glass and his mouth is empty of both digits and filled only with saliva.
"Cloudy today," I say, "feels like rain."
"Smells like it," he says, sips his coffee. Starbucks, Anna, I say nothing. Amidst the pallid white panel of his face are twin red stains, a blush from his morning run.
It's one of those days.
"Let's go to the shore today," I say, grabbing keys, a jacket, wrapping the woolen scarf Anna bought for him last Christmas around my neck. "Yeah," I reply to myself because Bent始s already in the car, revving, begging for takeoff, "I'm hungry."
Days like this Bent says nothing at all.
The beach is busier than we think it will be, parking lot typically empty suddenly full of fat tourists and foreign families. Decent people who don't take well to children like us, bitch-sticks clenched damp and cold between icy white teeth, dodging washed up pie shaped jelly fish and picking at empty clam shells. Days like this, the snapshots the tourists take of a misted horizon, these are the pictures they use to sell postcards. We are kept just out of the frame, not quite inside the edges of a picture perfect moment. "This one's nice," I say. A shell unbroken, eggplant purple and shining with the sea. Bent gives a glance and pockets it.
"Anna will like it, maybe, but she始ll know that I didn't think of it. That it was you."
Bent should sigh but doesn't. His entire body is taut like his breath is caught and just won始t let out. I for one can't breathe the aroma of carrion is so overwhelming. Rotting carcasses form a floor in the sun before us, a veritable buffet. Our feet crunch among the empty mauve mussel shells, cracking as eggs would beneath feet. The sound brings catharsis.
I need something to gnaw.
Children walk behind us, eight feet up on the sea wall. They are pointing to the distance and waving at strangers on a cruise ship coming in to dock. So much tinted glass and finely combed cotton,
double cuffed. I pick up another shell for Bent, this one white and smooth. It is a piece of something sandblasted on the sun stroked beach. Bent's eyes are behind aluminum foil today. He is looking from behind the reflective glass but does not see. "Who are you today?" I ask, my soft voice the same one uses with a puppy. That soothing voice as not to startle. The voice one would use to talk a tiger out of attack. To calm a baby, woo a woman.
"I don't know," he replies, "can't tell. You tell me. I'm the weather, overcast maybe. I'm nothing."
The children behind us shriek, they yell at the tourists and their parents try to ignore the smoking, the skin pale as milk, the blankness and expensive drape of our clothes. They point and gape and ask questions nobody feels much like answering today, tomorrow. When youʼre older, they whisper. In my fingers a broken crabs leg. Meat sucked into a mouth already eager, fingers unafraid of the filth of it to pull out what is left, pass it unnoticed between hands. In seconds Bent's lips are wet just as his palm is, meat slipped in. So much smoking, the meat is flavourless. Slightly salted, not enough of it.
"Who are you when you're with me," Bent asks.
"A crow, maybe," I reply, "a magpie."
"A thief. Liar. Scoundrel and hedonist combined. Better than nothing at all. Better than soulless."
"I have," Bent speaks slow, every syllable clear and measured, "a soul. I am human. That is who I am, everyday."
“No, you donʼt,” I say, and for the first time today he smiles. A laugh, almost. Caught.
"You treat people like prey, now. Always waiting for the bigger catch."
Bent stares, awaits . The skies brew above us, eyes absentmindedly falling on half-dried mussels, more broken crustacean limbs.
"Mice used to help you make do, and then cats, and now, now you're too big for this. I havenʼt forgotten all that. Now this is sport to you," Bent will not look at me. There is a line on his shirt, dark from it's wetness and for a moment I picture tears falling from behind the wall but the line is dark and as I touch it my fingers come away with blood.
"Remember when that was my little problem,” he says. This is not a question. His voice does not quiver and I do not cry. Today Bent wears no expression at all and when I hold his hand a moment it is damp and chill and does not squeeze back.
Touch, but do not feel.
"Let's do something to make everything right again," I say, "like atonement." The hollow is growing, the hunger is overwhelming, stop stop
stop my eyes water but cannot cry, there is a tightness of the throat, an itch I think to control it but it grows, blood pumps in veins double quick and I need it to put the colours back into my world, need something different, something
something more than rotting flesh on a beach, something more than grey skies overhead, need it more than Bent needs to run, to swim, to fuck or I need. Inhale. Need to breathe to calm this itch and to break the bones of Bentʼs hand if that will cause him to feel something warm and real today. Breath doesnʼt come easy these days. Eyes open or closed the vision is the same, dark wet lines, red to black, tar seeping through grey on grey on grey.
Inhale. Concentrate on anything but here to purge the memory of this moment.
Down a ways on the beach sit some men, boys still judging by their words soft and kind and melting. They sit and strum songs about mornings after and promises of finery for made up loves from faraway, of here. Loves yet to be had or missed already. A girl sits to smoke within earshot of their party, a woman really. She reads and taps a heeled foot on the concrete of the sea wall. Leather. They are blinded by promises made in their paltry songs to woman like her, people theyʼd treat like children and are missing their chance, plain to see. Here and gone. In my hand a palm with a matching scar on it, these boys are yet to learn what forever means with a scar yearned for and earned like that. The woman turns sand to glass with her embers, stands to greet someone worth her wide smile in the time it takes for the boys to lose a muse worthy of finery and lilting words, in the time it takes to match my heartbeat to the one in his wrist. We are silent and distant in these thoughts, Bent likely staring at the sky empty and if he is thinking still he is close to me in these thoughts. One scar split two ways is better than a falsely broken heart, he must be thinking. Must be, there are few things in this world I need to be true. With a pulse like his, mind blank but blood hot and rushing to join in my way of life
blood meant to pump fast with the hunt
since I first felt Bent I knew I had to own him forever.
"Just call me a good boy," he breathes the words like a partners plea, begging, "some days it's all I want to hear."
“Bent, you are above all things not good,” I lie, “you are a very bad boy.” “Shut up,” he whispers. Lips chapped, bitten, whisper, “stop it.”
“No,” I say. Something about this is off, who can tell what, this is a waiting period is all, this is not the therapy I require, the bliss. Right now, I want to hurt something, Bent will have to do,
not Bent, not my plaything. Burn the things you value most and theyʼll turn to ash and sea glass. Nothing of value, detritus.
“Whoʼs been telling you otherwise.”
Silence says more than his answer would. Coach isnʼt pleased, Anna, Caroline. Bent hasnʼt been going to practice because heʼs been falling down too many flights of stairs and the water reveals too much. God, something, whatever, they arenʼt pleased either. Because heʼs been bumping into too many walls. This I know, I can feel. In a heartbeat. This is his real little problem. He kicks at a shell and lights another cigarette, two, one for me. Annaʼs pretty little shell dropped from the scarred palm, detritus. The whole world has gone quiet and we probably should feel something grand. Nothing about this is good, nothing to savour but emptiness and rot.
"Tell me I'm human," I say.
Bent is silent.
"Iʼd rather,” he breaks at last, “you show me youʼre not.
DAVID We drive, fast, drive somewhere no one will know our faces, remember our names. Just those kids, those crazy kids. Just look at what theyʼre wearing these days, cheer up, ooh, they think. Some are careless enough to bite a lip or bat an eye, embarrassing, caught in a glance. Bent bites at my neck at a red light, clenching and unclenching a fist on the car door handle. Plays with the Zippo in his pocket, rips at whatʼs left of a thumb nail. His blood runs electric and we arenʼt even there, anywhere, yet.
The crow bar sits still in the backseat and there is plastic to line the floors.
I play bait on a downtown street corner not too far from the families and showboat tourists and the man who offers me a ride, a tour, he could be Father, he could be Mr. Henderson, Jenni's dad. He asks me for my name after calling me Blondie and I tell him thatʼll do, I smile sweet like a little angel, use my nicest voice and stop to pretend to think about getting inside that nice vehicle but the seats are beige fabric, too absorbent. Lick a lip, my own, this is not a subconscious move.
There are hidden motives in all we do. Do not pretend.
I'm asking for change for a bus I don't need to take and this man, David, he approaches and then there is Bent and the promise of him as well, what a deal this and that, Davidʼs in luck, not really. There is the promise of money, from David, for me, for services, the hollow is opening up in my stomach, the size of a brick, of a heart, and then in Bent's car we are in the backseat with the doors locked Bent is watching for pigs and suddenly
all coming from David, but there is a tire iron and Bent's three thousand dollar brace job canines and fingers and a corkscrew from Disneyland with Mickey Mouse carving into an elbow and a keychain that was never meant for this but god itʼs fun and David is all over the back seat of the car, way into the leather. A pinky in my mouth I suck at and chew and choke on a bit of bone right before our hands, the two of us, the fingers entwine and we stick together through the sweat and hair and bone and we fuck. Bent and I and there is no telling which blood is which in my mouth until there is Bent's come which is thick and bitter, somehow, replace it and in four hours we both have to be home and Bent has been wearing the sunglasses the whole time, I havenʼt come yet and as he begins to sob my hand is slick with whatever and at this point who cares, he helps, tears are clearing tracks down cheeks behind the black glass and I wonder aloud when this will all end and we become quiet as the realization hits that it can't. “Iʼm so glad the seats in here are leather,” Bent is crying and lighting a cigarette because its all his hands know to do in between slaughter and sex, idle hands, idle hands, thatʼs what heʼs thinking. This is wholly our work. He hiccups and we forget to laugh. My left foot is bare and Davidʼs pathetic thinning hair is knotting in between my toes and catching on the cracks in the nails. I kick at the head to push it underneath the drivers seat and hold him, Bent, lay draped over so that fingers can push back the glasses and a hand can slip under the shirt, bandages, can stroke thin lines. Bent is crying right proper and there is nothing I can do but say that the body is no good, the meat is tainted with the moment and I want another,
less adrenaline pumping in the veins because it gives the meat a taste of fear, I say,
another and weʼll be wiped clean.
In Fatherʼs shower first I wash, then Bent. The drive out to where Kelly was killed passes in a flicker, the flash of a Polaroid. There is time enough to watch the sky brew deep dark acid washed grey and dump what is left of David in the overflowing ditch. Bent is alone at home in the shower and I shouldnʼt have done any of this. Crows are already circling as I leave, motorists will think it was a deer, a dog, something less than vital that has died there and the crows will pick everything clean. Thank you Maggie, mag pies, oh how these birds pick. Thank you, murder. Ditch.
Bent is still in the shower when I arrive home. The water runs cold over toes pruning,
how improper, I imitate and he does not hear over the echo of my own voice
hands covering his face. He emerges eventually to rub at scabs, to re-wrap the tensor band round and round ribs etching shadow lines across his back. Cream canvas and ink splotches on it and there is green and yellow just so to frame plum and beet red and clotting black smudges underneath. Paint. All this mottled blood just like wasted dye. Bent emerges and takes a shirt of mine, white, he brushes teeth and parts his hair first on the right
prefers the left.
“Letʼs get another tomorrow,” he says, “and again. The weekend.”
His reflection is the one talking to me, it, It, It is this thing smiling out at us from the mirror. His eyes are stolen by the beast in the mirror, they dart and shine and are not his.
“Iʼll line the backseat,” I promise, “with the leftover bags. The heavy duty ones.”
“Kitchen catchers,” he smiles and this time Itʼs in those eyes.
“I want all of them,” he says smiling wider, “all of them.”
“I want a good looking one, something young,” I say.
“Youʼre a monster.”
“So are children.”
When he kisses me it is a promise that everything is different, his hiss at the friction on fresh scars is enjoyable, the dark glee of his laugh is not caught behind a fake smile or reflective lens.
“This,” he quotes a favorite, “this is what church is supposed to feel like.”
The Day of the Night (of the Black Tie Gala) : (The Beginning of the End)
Father likes the thought of me as self sufficient, clean, thorough. Out of sight, out of mind, not unlike a ripening investment.
He likes the image of the perfect son but just the picture of it, and just so long as nothing ruins that picture he sends the cheques and I hold more freedom than I know what to do with. The freedom to indulge my obsessions with all the compulsions that abate them but not so far as to publicly seek therapists to fill out psych med prescriptions.
Not in public, what would the neighbours think? Oh god, he worries, the horror.
before there is the next obstacle of the day to overcome.
One must leave and lock the door three times, count them carefully,
This is the day of the night of the gala. A plate with six pills of various colours and shapes. Head cocked, curious, add another pill to the plate. These are swallowed whole and without gagging on a swill of black coffee as I am leaving the house, triple locking the door. Blue eyes grey, white skin pallid. Dark circles could be masked behind dark glasses, and my hair is just, just, just so, parted and carded by comb to hide the fact that it is falling out in places. Like a beautifully tattered doll, I count the clicks of the locks on the door,
As soon as I do it I know that I shouldn't have popped that extra sea-green.
What four anxiety pills do, five won't necessarily do better.
Hands dampened by a cold sweat, this morning holds equal chances of vomiting before noon or passing out before I reach the doors of St Martinʼs. The latter option isnʼt one and my regurgitated nothing attracts the crows to the backyard. They pick through bile wondering where the chunks are and two of them are never meant to fly again. Into the pansies go more stick twig legs and everything
is alright. For the moment, for the day, who is to say what the
the dark of the night will bring.
The halls of St. Martinʼs were once pale green, softly lit by skylights reflecting off the glass tiled walls. Here and now the school resembles public swimming pool change-rooms, the tiles scratched and dull. Empty during the day but for the try-hards organizing the bullshit gala tonight, I wander these halls that were once so familiar. Once, once this is was closer to home than home was. Once, these halls watched me weave on the way to class,
to passing out.
If only the walls would talk to me.
This is me wandering St. Martinʼs with no memory of driving here, with no feeling left in my fingertips. Eyes closed I slide down locker number 068, my old little cubby in hell. Memory comes, goes; I light a cigarette and don the Bans. The world today is simply too much. For one single clear moment this locker door was wonderfully cool on my forehead; my hands gave out. This is months ago, before my disappearing act. Before the center and before the return. Before I had graduated not from class but from birds to people. Spines were smashed as books tumbled to the ground and suddenly there was Bent. That morning the combo had been a bad one; lipstick red, cranberry, two, and sea-foam. Bending to pick up the books for me, smiling. He picked them up, smiled, and continued down the hall to where Anna stopped to kiss him on the cheek before they parted, kissed, and I thought that I might cry for the pain of it. The urge to vomit built, a garbage bin nearby caught my eye. I could never forgive myself for such public disgrace but bitter coffee twice tasted is swallowed thickly. I had walked on. To sit in class, watch my hands like pale spiders shake with the effort of supporting a pencil. Out of the corner of my eye Bent scribbling something. The grating sound of ripping paper, the soft crumple of its folded edges, and a note passed to me.
"Are you alright?"
Passed sideways, two rows over. I read it again and again.
"Are you alright?"
"Are you alright?"
From my notebook a page was produced, littered with notes of things I already knew or didnʼt care to learn.
spheres - exo, thermo, meso, strato, tropo.
so: (eat ten mice, save two)
This I passed along to Bent with tongue bit, jaws clamped and chewing slowly. I slithered from class without penning anything for him at all. Bent had followed as obedient as a rutting dog.
One can only imagine his trajectory. He grabbed his things - a soft brown leather coat once his older brotherʼs, keys to the beemer, the Prada messenger bag from last spring. He must have ducked into the bathrooms nearest the office, narcissistically checking his reflection in the full length mirror. Not smiling. No sounds of another human life, he would lift his shirt and check the starched white rags made of his mothers third favorite set of sheets, pulled tight across his chest. He would check them for signs of leaking, of blood rushing fresh from his wounds scratched deep into the skin. Every breath forced, ribs stretching, lungs filling, the skin rips ever more and a drop leaks out. He still lives in fear that he will bleed out in front of everyone, that the secret will be lost. If only the walls could talk. They hum with our secrets the same as the ceilings are warmed by our most passionate thoughts and the floors beneath left cold with our secretive walking. A secret only I know, I know it. He probably wandered the halls, at last descending to the basement, the abandoned student smoking lounge. Fingers brushing the bricks till the sounds of my retching could be heard. The fluorescent light above the sink flickers between bright white light and darkness so complete one can pretend that this is hell, this is blindness, and he followed the sound towards me.
I think that it was one sea-foam too many that morning.
My mind had been stuck on class.
“Mr Rome, the answer, if you please.”
“DNE. Does not exist.”
“Very good. Mr Cross, number five.”
“Simon? Are you alright?”
“Mr Rome, the answer, if you please.”
This is me, bent double and murmuring excuses. Something I ate, yeah, fine, just fine. Something I ate. I ate. Lies. The tiles cold and damp, a drip from the exposed pipes again onto my neck. Or a bead of sweat, cold, not his tears, hot. Bent, angry.
“You're eating then?”
Like a joke. Like this is funny to watch me shake like this, as though it amused him to watch me rinse out a mouth of bile and splash cold water on my face, to wear dark sunglasses on overcast days to disguise pupils wide as dinner plates. His hand had waited patient for mine to toss the car keys to him, but mine shook and dropped them. Numb, I said, watch, I said, I bit into the pinky just to prove to him that this was real. Shaking I dropped the keys, shook them. He drove me home. Bent knew enough to stop to let me puke tarry blood like coffee grounds. Something deeper is wrong, he said. He knew enough to drive slow and careful round the bends, to disguise his annoyed sigh and rub my back, cool dry hand on the back of a sopping neck. To find the French press and make some tea.
Bent, above all things, is a good boy.
That morning had been like today, it had been the night of another gala. We sat at opposite ends of the etched glass table watching the tea brew slowly between us. Black tea swirling. In the quiet of the moment Bentʼs eyes wandered to mine but I was transfixed by the darkening water. It was a quiet reminder of the ocean churning not too far from here, waters so dark that only a night before I had wanted to simply walk into them. Become one with the seaweed wrapped around the stones and picked at by the birds. Leftovers. The tea falling quietly helped quell the urge to curl in the fetal position on the floor. Or into his arms. Bent sitting and watching me, sitting, watching the tea leaves float and sink.
“So,” he said.
“So you're back to this, then? You're-”
“What, and you aren't? I don't even have to ask you to pull up your shirtsleeves to know what I'd see beneath them. It's just that some of us have the decency not to ask in the first place.” A cloud of something washed over his face. Something between grief and anger, hurt and rage. The fringe of his hair fell so low that the furrow between his brow was hidden though the twitch of a frown fell on his lips. Lips bitten chapped and bleeding, a habit he picked up from me. And he pretending to care, pretending that we were still a we, a unit. As though it saddened him, which I have to tell myself over and over and over again is a dirty fucking lie. “This wasn't my fault for once. We've both got our scars and the sense enough to keep them covered up beneath nice clean layers of clothes. Donʼt you try and patronize me or Iʼll do it right back at you.”
Tap, tap, tap
Bentʼs fingers on the glass, eyelids blinking in time
if he looks too long heʼll lock eyes with me and
“The gala's tonight and you know you can't miss,”
“They bring me out to parade every year. Tea would be nice, it looks steeped. Want to drive?”
“Can't. I'm picking up Anna at her place.”
“Ah. Of course. Anna. Pour me a cup, wonʼt you?”
I poured the tea. This is called distraction. His tapping stopped the same time he stopped caring whether I was lying or not. Didnʼt matter either way and heʼd never have the pleasure or hardship of knowing. Rings of russet water smeared the table from our mugs, now the table would have to be cleansed too. Bleach, I realized. I was out of bleach. Almost. “Donʼt worry about it. Thanks. This is just me, a disappearing trick. Watch long enough and I'll shrink away to nothing.”
“Please don't joke, I can't sleep-”
“Who says Iʼm joking. I won't. I'm sorry.”
We sat in silence for a time before he left and I sat with a smoke, waiting for the night to come and greet me. For the sea to open up and claim rotten fruit like me for the birds to pluck at. I wanted to give the sea my harmful yellowed eyes, hands of numbed ice, wanted skin of milk to melt into it. And blood, my blood, I wished to taint the whole evil thing with it.
I wished for everyone to taste me and know my secrets coursing there. Hot, dark, spiced, sweet.
Tonight I wait for this night to greet me. This life on loop, nothing new should come of it. Nothing new ever comes out of these people who run and run in circles ever shrinking only to rise after slipping or tripping and to continue running with the same vapid smiles on their faces. Only this time there is a scar from that last slip.
What a night it was, has been, will be.
I kill the cigarette, hide in the locker. For a long moment, the inside of the door is wonderfully cool on my forehead. I stand, hidden in the dark and thankful I cannot see even the skin of my hands, the nails that gore. These hands are meant to play, and play beautifully, tonight. I keep them hid from the world inside this mechanical seashell. The echo of my heartbeat is faint but beating.
Spiced blood runs hot through this cold body and yearns for something.
I keep It hid.
9 The Night of the Night (of the Black Tie Gala) This evening, in theory, is supposed to raise money for a local battered womenʼs shelter. In reality itʼs an excuse for our parents to look like caring, upstanding citizens and for the boys of St. Martinʼs to show off their extraordinarily well-kept girlfriends from our sister school, St. Teresa's.
“Tom! Tom, long time no see! How's Millie doing?”
The sound of my Father lying, lying through his high gloss, all shine, no substance smile. I can hear him but cannot see him from backstage. A glass of water is offered and helps to down a buttercup yellow and I smile through clenched teeth while praying for still fingers. Marie, thatʼs the girls name who hands me the cup, Marie. Marie had a thing for me two years back and tonight she offers a hug I am reluctant to take but itʼs warm and soft and the scent of her hair is so blissfully normal that I accept. “Youʼll kill it,” she offers compliments afterwards, “your dadʼs here too, he must be so proud of you. Simon. Simon?”
She has murdered the moment and a stare is enough to force her to turn and go.
Why Father is here, why tonight, why in town, why tonight, tonight is my night
the night is mine
this rage will not be satiated by a bird.
From behind the velvet curtains comes Annaʼs laughter, her words babbling over other voices, and this means that Bent is here, Bent drove her, in his car. In the car with a tire iron and kitchen catchers in the backseat that no one questions, in the car where Davids short buzz cut hairs are stuck under the driver side seat, cheap dirty blonde, hairs that no one knows about but us. Anna, for all my hatred of her, is a fine girl. Fine in every way and so good for Bent it hurts down deep. Dark brown hair glossy with Fekkai spray and countless hours spent straightening it, she has a tiny smile with tiny perfect teeth and a pair of demure hazel eyes. Anna is a Van Stroem, she is of a legacy, she has a trust fund and popular friends, she is intelligent and she will end up at Brown next year but drop out in three. Anna is everything Bentʼs family, she is everything they want for their son. She is a she and I am me, a boy, a beautiful boy who is a little too quiet but otherwise fine. Or so they say. The boy always in a sickly way, without a mother, or so they think. The one whoʼd had that fever, the one that took the blue out of green eyes and left him strange. The thing about Anna is that when they look at her they do not imagine her having sex with their son and question who is on top and wonder if its safe or condemn them as sin incarnate and their eyes will never spit venom at her. They would not kick Bent out because of her, they will call on birthdays and at Christmas. Bent will find his initials in that fucking will, one day.
With Anna Bent is safe and I burn with a rage that is nonsensical but true and never ending.
Do not, Iʼm thinking, do not scan the crowd for his face or to linger on it if eyes meet. For Father. Not to care, to pretend not to care. For Father. I should have known that there is a difference between
feigning distance as to not get hurt and truly not giving a shit and that I was already failing at recognizing the difference myself. Where does this half begin and the other end, these halves. Day and night halves, that which cares and that which does not. To do this, that, this, that.
A sea-foam, I wish for, a bird will not do for this. Father.
The curtains swing open to a string quartet of students playing a classical piece, Chopin. Pop another swallow it dry. Trembling hands fall still at sides and suddenly I am sitting. Curtains sweep back. The audience fidgets, coughs. Once, polite like. Then swallowed coughs, polite. Fingers find their places; they play. They play the way I live for these people, through routine and without much passion or thought. Muscle memory. Like a tic, an uncontrollable motion of a muscle, like their routine running in circles, that is how I play. ʻKellyʼ, I play. An original, thatʼs what Marie introduced the piece as with a smile kept in place only through rhythmic practice. C sharp minor, my favourite key. Even in the dark and from the stage I can see Anna slip her hand into Bentʼs and watch as he brushes it off. There are icicles forming from the floor, she might as well be foaming at the mouth. The temperature, I swear it dips a couple degrees. Father shivers as he can feel it too. Not much else, but that. Watching me. I catch the gesture and smile and he smiles back, Bent, and Anna catches all of this in her memory but can not understand and is unhappy. Cold. I drive home though clearly should not and head first for the kitchen. The numbness seeps past the blood barrier into my brain and I do not note the beemer parked on the road. Not the driveway but in between our yard and the Johnsonʼs place. A guest sort of thing. Visitors. A clean plate has to be placed on the counter and water boiled for tea, rolling, rolling, whatever. All along so keenly unaware that there are intruders about, that Father has beaten me home. Loose tea that smells of the faraway drifts in the press set upon the table. Upstairs, something heavy falls to the floor. I wish to be where this tea is from, somewhere anywhere
it wouldnʼt matter
I look up and continue to stare. This is no robber. Simply Father dropping a bag to the floor that is heavier than an overnight or a carry-on which leaves only checked baggage or golf clubs. At least a week. A week. I sit at the table and watch the tea steep. This is as last year, as before, I have been trapped by this annual monstrosity and am a cog in their circle. I am trotting on their little path. High heels click and the Woman enters the room. As not to explode, as not to do something that the news would call
will not note as
an unfortunate event
I tape the moment in my head and begin to watch it as a play would unfold. The moment is available for replay; watch it over and over again on repeat. Repeat. “Hello, Iʼm-” The Woman speaks and this is already more information than required. “Wendy? Jenny? Caroline. I'll call you that. I suppose youʼre Fathers new one, yes? You're a brunette, that is mildly surprising.” The Woman smiles thinly at this. Thin. She has been well trained. When her stomach makes a wet sound, a low rumble, it does nothing to break the tension in her smile but offers a moment for me to laugh, scoff really, at some simple funny thing.
“No. And, and, no, actually, I'm not new at all, itʼs been, oh, six months now-” “Is that so?” “- and we're engaged to be married. In the fall.” Smug, as though she has won some sort of battle. In truth I feel for her. She has no idea. Absolutely no. Idea.
I smile now. Thin.
“Ah. Well isn't that exciting. What am I to be, the flower girl?”
The Womanʼs left eye tics only mildly, her flawless matte mask cannot hide this lapse.
“No, no, Richard tells me that you're very studious-”
“He would tell you that wouldn't he-”
“- and that you couldn't miss exams for it. It's to be in the fall, I wanted desperately to meet you beforehand.” “Really now. Really.” And that is all that can be said before Father enters the room, pours himself a cup of tea. My tea, softly swirling, calming my over soaked brain. The tape continues, mind reeling, I am completely speechless. “Simon, I see you've met with-” “I really honestly do not care what her name is.”
Voice over. An honest delivery by a distinguished actor. The edge is just right.
“Simon,” Father looks between me and her, he chuckles a moment but the laugh is false sound and doesnʼt extend to wrinkle his eyes.
“For fucks sakes, Father, honestly.” My head is simply too heavy to stand straight on its hinge, it drops slightly as vision is weaving, yet they do not notice. The cuts between shots are random, strange. “I care,” the Woman interrupts, “I really do. Simon. Simon. What a lovely name.” Sit and stare, stare at tea, black leaves and stems swirling still in the darkening water, cannot and will not believe this. Pretending not to care and being ambivalent are two separate things. There is no reason for me to care about this. “You haven't said it. Not once.” Not hurt. Flawless delivery, better than foundation is at covering the little crows feet at her eyelids, the ticks. Nothing slips through, no cracks.
Always tonight. For later. A bird will not be enough.
Father is silent. I wonder for a moment how I still allow scenes like this one play out. Why, when life is somewhere between a softly blurred screen and mute, daily, this I cannot shut off. “If you're going to be like this, we'll leave you alone. I know the gala was stressful. My doctor tells me to avoid stress. Be back, be responsible, leave a note if you go.” And that is that. They walk out, cut scene, thatʼs a wrap. The Woman doesnʼt bother to say goodbye. Both her rudeness and perfume stain the air and make me sick, they are vulgar. I wish to spit venom at her, to bite something. I want to wound her, to infect. She will not last. They. Not a word. No goodbye. Never once a name, never once a mention of a son, son, not a word about the gala, anything, not, no hello, goodbye, nothing, always.
I tell myself this
but this is not under the reign of reason.
The cold hearted son of a bitch, the sick, sick twisted man, the sick bastard
how dare he
inhale, please, I think, inhale, control,
no breath is enough the air in the room is cold and thin and
fingers pick up the press, throw and
into the wall a waterfall of blackened pain streaming falls, tea runs, it
down the wall and into the mess of leaves and shards and the unruly spider fingers pull a plate towards the mess and begin to pick up the pieces. A piece pricks but hands continue to gather the shards as a harvest of tiny bits
maybe, something sharp
seeing the ink spots in brown water, cerise to burgundy deep, mixing.
Bent calls as the tea stains to russet and I am cleansed of this anger as it is washed away, the whole situation mopped up in paper towel wads and Bent calls to tell of a party going on at Maxʼs place, party tonight and do I want a ride, yeah? He makes the promise to join, asks about Father and all I say is that for once I feel Bent and understand how this swirling mess is the best thing, worthy of a whole portfolio of glossed photos and Bent wants to come over says he wonders something and I tell him not to worry, that Iʼm fine itʼs fine all is fine itʼs funny, really, really funny, why not laugh about it because
are gone, not all the way gone, just out of the picture for now, and that Iʼll see him there.
I try to remember to exhale and it just wonʼt
10 EXPLORING (or MAXʼS ARTY PARTY) When I arrive at Maxʼs three girls clad in poorly constructed togas and glitter gold sliver bronze copper, these harpies scream my name; vodka and coke overflow their red plastic cups and stain the pink carpet sugar and wet. The bronze one points down a tunnel of dark hall to what I assume is the fridge, freezer, ice. Ice cubes in a cup, yes, thank you. Smile.
It feels like a Friday night because maybe it is. Who is to say or frankly to care.
The house itself drips with smells distinctly human
something sweetly rotting
hairspray alcohol and detergent fresh
smoke in cotton
and canine, breath, oh,
ha, her scent almost washed away by all of us. Dance the night away and in the morning sheʼll just be a memory. I smirk and the silver girl is watching and bites her lip as I melt into a wall and follow it towards the promised ice. Both having nice thoughts and the walls pulse one with the crowd. Throb. The girls fussing, hissing and giggles, I escape that. One of them cries, crying, right there in public, they have followed. Mascara paint drips over cheekbones and into a mouth held agape, such a sad clown. Such a hilarious spectacle, what a scene, I wonder where the drugs are because sobriety is overrated. People are screaming along to a song blaring from the corner and the floor is sopping wet, everything shined black beneath our patent shoes. Jake from maths is dripping everywhere as he appears to have recently exited the hot tub. Jake is noticeably half hard inside his sodden bathing suit shorts, robin egg blue is too light for those to be wet, oh well, but no one seems to take notice. They sing
PLAYING AT MY HOUSE, AT MY HOUSE
and I am fast with the red plastic, cubes, from the dispenser, no thank you to a few offers, I already have some, escape. Everywhere there are people and song and dance, there is falling and groping and doors slamming and some kid on the couch, passed out with the dog, Kelly, Kellyʼs blanket thrown over him for warmth by a well intentioned albeit sloshed friend. The toga girls are now crying as a collective, harpies clutching flavoured cigarillos that light their pallid faces as Greek muses would appear at a funeral. One of them is snogging Jake through all of this, copper, she appreciates his condition. No where is there Bent. I melt into the walls once more; we are complementary shades of white. The light-switch flips and this or that flickers as I descend into the basement. No light flashes. Stairs become empty space beneath
feet and one hand is kept brushed up against the wall to stay steady. Sound dims and at the foot of the staircase some soft and warm thing touches my hand. “Bent?” I ask. “Glass,” he says. My fingers have found the shell of his ear and the thickness of his hair. I wonder if he overheard the smash, knows about the shards, the mess. Tea. Russet. In this dark he cannot possibly see and has not felt bandages. In the darkness there is no room beyond, just abyss, and I want this space to stretch on forever. Bent is silent as my good fingers, whole, slide from his ear to the joint of his jaw, across the skin like sandpaper and cracking lips. They softly push open his lips and his mouth is warm and wet and I kiss blood. Blood like in the dream, all blood. Like finding out the milkʼs gone rancid a moment too late. There are things you know just by feeling and it smears and his lips are chapped and gummy from it. His chin is wet still, neck, the neck of his shirt must be black by now. “Bent?” I ask. “Glass,” he says. “I smashed a bulb, sucking on it. Sorry, I mean, it was - itʼs quiet down here. Not much to do. Been waiting for you.” I am pulled into deeper darkness where no light goes. This is the abyss. His breathing comes softly, hyper fast. Hands roam my shoulders and are strong, pushy, shake like his heart. Thatʼs the ephedrine talking, working, the ECA stack he snuck into his coffee before the gala. The pills he stole from me, from my stolen stash, pills washed down not with purified water or coffee but with scotch thick and deadly. The smell of it on his breath makes me want to vomit up the nothing in my stomach. “Bent, why?” I ask. “I canʼt control myself,” he says, and even in the blackness one can tell that his soles are staining the carpet gloppy red, a mess like warm wet tar. Something else broke tonight into a trillion tiny shards and his breathing shakes still, the hyperventilation is a sign. All of it. My fingers find another switch and flip it, I say Bent, spit it out. Now, because a shard from within has split my tongue now too, the offender falls from his lips dripping with his obedience. Upstairs, they sing
CAPITAL LETTERS PRINTED IN GOLD
words screamed and carried like voices from purgatory through the heat register. He slumps down the wall and his lips and chin are covered just like I thought, his shirt is ruined and my fingertips will stain the colour black. Like a monster. Like heʼs vomiting a can of paint, bad Bent, eating all that paint. What a waste. The colour in any decent light would be astonishing.
We donʼt mention it but know, know in that deep down sense, know this a consequence of something. Of shunning and smiling at something, this is me, my fault, a smile back, all seen by someone else. Something and someone. All out in the open, oh
how we are so stupid.
Footprints are smeared into the carpet and he matches the walls. My tongue numbs and rings of opiates that arenʼt meant to dissolve before your stomach and triple distilled something and pumping metallic warmth. It all tastes sad and thick and bitter. Tastes like what Bent is made of right about now. A cocktail of problems. A mess of things, like gasoline and grit. Bent no longer thinks. He swills and spits and swallows when I tell him to. Barely dry I tuck him tight inside the guest bed sheets, a silken grey. Upstairs, they chant
and when I kill the lights we are finally in hell. “Upstairs,” I begin, “there is a nice boy.”
In this hell there are matches next to a pipe on the bedside table. I produce a stick from a box, the
illuminates us for a moment, sparks shadows into being in the nothingness. Even in the dark I catch Bent not looking. Eyes stare upward at a ceiling otherwise
Cigarette on lip I begin again.
“Upstairs, there are many nice boys. One of them is Michael Penner and heʼs a very nice boy, Bent. Heʼs so pissed drunk that I could corner him and kiss him and I would bet you anything that Michael Penner will not have a mouth full of glass to greet me with. You know this. Michael Penner wonʼt be bleeding all over the furniture and the carpet, not the walls or the towels. No. Now tell me why I shouldnʼt be upstairs with a boy like Michael Penner right now?” “One piece. It was one piece.”
He lies and I sit and we both bleed out real slow. His breathing has slowed. My fingertips yearn to memorize his heartbeat. The cigarette flares as I puff and the fingertips are going numb. Fizzling out. Sparklers. “Iʼm sorry to split your tongue,” he whispers. I fall mostly
this is fading
place a palm over the ridges of his bony cage.
“He knows,” Bent sighs.
Iʼd ask who but donʼt care. His Father, mine, a brother, God, someone, it doesnʼt matter. Someone, someone knows. Long before the first guest showed up tonight bearing booze and pot, this whole charade had already been shattered. This thing is now broken, is faulty, we are being
apart by the shards of the inevitable fallout.
This means he will stay until he no longer can. This means that much more glass will be broken. A jaw, maybe. Something always breaks from these things. Bentʼs heart is a dying bird slowly losing hope yet beating time and time again at the cage of bone that holds it captive.
“Tomorrow,” I whisper, “tomorrow will be different, I promise.”
“He knows,” Bent says. I kiss a cheek and find wet salt but he does not cry, cannot weep.
“Tomorrow night is atonement,” I whisper, “a bird wonʼt do. A heart will, will do,” I whisper and he exhales. My fingers smooth out, press down. They plead for the bird to calm now, to sleep.
11 REMEMBER WHAT A THOUGHT IS?
Bent is mumbling and I was supposed to be listening but that isnʼt coming naturally right now. We arenʼt supposed to be here, in the abyss. Itʼs early enough in the morning that the remaining guests are either drunkenly weaving home or passed the fuck out on floors carpeted with dog fur and tacky spit above us. “Oh,” sounds from purgatory filter down, the sound of a girl getting fucked by someone halfdecent like, “oh, just, please, oh, Max, this
so totally perfect.”
Bent is sitting at the foot of the pool table with legs splayed and probably wonʼt remember the voice carried through the register, probably wouldnʼt care if he could. His footprints have been washed clean from the carpets and the bathroom is pristine yet again. “Oh, Max, oh, Max, fuck, me,” Annaʼs breathy words drip down the vent in rhythmic time; like clockwork. He tells me things in the abyss and this is all we get for a soundtrack. The soundtrack to life should be splendid, not so sporadic and tragic. We are not supposed to be lounging in such an abyss. It breeds a likelihood for us to become sexually active as Lynda would put it. Fatherʼs words. “So have you,” Bent questions, and yet again my brain has failed at conveying the message from my ears, “itʼs been so long.” I should say no but wonʼt because in the abyss, what else is there to do? To fill in stretches of time sex and drugs and alcohol are the only things which keep anyone consistently feeling something. At least weʼre not fucking, the world would think. Jesus, Caroline, Father, Anna, God, whoever. Bent emerges backlit from the staircase like some fallen angel heralding a baggy of weed and box of matches he can light with a flick of his thumbnail. Like snapping your fingers, thatʼs how easy this is. “Letʼs hotbox the bathroom,” he says, taking my hand and pulling me into the cold echoing cell. In the dark he can do this. He packs a bowl full and lights it like a professional. In the brief flash of light from the magnesium flare I catch his smile. There are hidden motives in all we do. Do not pretend.
“Here,” he says, and we pass back and forth. This takes forever, by the time he begins to complain that his fingers are really fucking burning from all the match lighting going on the air has become thickly pungent, rank, and Iʼm giggling. He touches my hand to pull me closer and the movement tingles in slow motion. Everything is going to be alright because here and now we can take it slow. We laugh and the ashes of the bowl fall far beneath our feet, down past purgatory and hell and into the pure blackness beneath us. Everywhere but where Bent is is nothing and he I can see and feel, his laugh I can feel like hot breath on my ear and throat and mouth. We fall and his head smashes the corner of the sink, the porcelain explodes like murder, all blood. One second pristine, the next itʼs spiraling spatter. Bentʼs eyes water and he laughs even through a grimace and the non bloodied hand takes mine and we fall up up the stairs to the living room and the world has exploded while we were gone into light like no other day never has a sunrise been so much bloody handprints on the wall beside my head, but comfortably numb is playing and who doesnʼt love dancing when their brain is liquid spinning mass that cannot come down from the feeling of ticklish and laughter and perfection in a moment especially when the sun is pink red orange and the rainbows from all that polished glass reflect in the clearest eyes so pale and Anna can get fucked I pray for a wire hanger in her future for Maxʼs unwanted thing to fuck her up to rip her petty life apart they have finished and their breathing masks his Bentʼs sigh when I finally and perfect and underneath my fingers something soft and warm and tastes like smoky spit and feels so much better than anything should ever feel, especially with hot wet hair beneath between fingertips dripping drying blackandred all the same in something perfectly the shade of snow like I tell him and he is smiling softly and seems to be sweating skin clammy and the cut is still raining just a drip drip and his smile fades as though he is almost sleeping head bobbing into and out of my palm which will always be between it and these hardwood floors must hurt his bones my poor bones stuck inside such thin skin and pounded into such hard floors but Bent is breathing harsh into my neck with that hot smoke that is his breath like a cello his voice is deep and rumbles right into me and we are on fire breathing smoke too hot for words but wet and bleeding and skin taut between stretched out bones shaking with something like rain and beyond words just beneath this surface like tears always unshed and he is sobbing into my neck now, we lie in Maxʼs bed, the sheets cooling the sweat soaked skin and shrinkwrapping us into one being with all the limbs twisted up together as one being that fits together oh so perfectly, these wet droplets drip down my throat dragging in air through something scraped raw from soot and fire and throaty sounds and moans and screams of something maybe nothing special, they pool in my collarbone and his
ribs shake and shake and shake and he shakes but my hands can hold on so tight and my voice like grit on the tracks soothes as a peppermint balm my fingers card hair clumped thick and hold on tight to this fainting being shrouded in white and pallid yet flushed youth and beauty and perfect I whisper into the baby shell of his ear, perfect and we sleep.
12 Leftovers For the first time that memory serves, Father and a Woman are both home for the same infinitesimal moment in time. Them. Together. This is completely unannounced on their part, as usual. It is assumed that my life centers around sitting at home and waiting for them to make an entrance. Father is earnest that we consume a meal together as proof of something, dinner. This whole situation is one spectacular failure. There are times you wish you could just let your head roll back and laugh. The two of them are laughing it up on the deck as sunset fades to a streak of watery blood on the horizon, tinting The Womanʼs honey blonde something brassy. Her glossed red heels
as she walks over to Father, hands him a glass of champagne. The glass is sweating but she is not – her skin is plastic wrap, is cellophane, is botox, is wax stretched tight over a calcified frame. Thick steaks sizzle and bleed on the grill before Father because it looks like something real fathers do. Like Iʼve been able to touch cooked flesh in years. Everything they ever learned about what to be when they grew up came from magazines. Socialization is finally the realm of mass produced fashion and mainstream modeling; clever advertising taught them everything they needed to succeed. This is the future, this is now. Their laughter dies somewhere between the deck and plate glass windows that separate us. So nineties, this open air concept. The Dadaists might be proud, would more likely be disgusted. Watching them from the family room, the something room, I pretend to play the piano. They do not notice that there is no sound being made so long as my fingers rest on the keys and I remain sitting. They will not come inside and disturb me as long as I sit like this, so I sit. And watch. They are a champagne commercial. Viagra, cherry wood shellac, patent leather Manolos, Rolex; their smiles sell it all. They are Ralph Lauren and Kate Moss, play the parts beautifully. Their smiles are a part of it too, come part and parcel with the lifestyle. This isnʼt a Sears ad - I am no longer a cute toddler and we own no dog. They are the affluent couple that was smart enough to never have kids. These are the parts theyʼve chosen to play. Ha ha, they laugh at the plebs beneath them. Ha ha, their laughter the call of the mocking bird; the bark of a starving dog. They mock me because nowhere do I fit into the tiny picture theyʼve painted of life. Their life. Not mine. The Woman leans in to kiss Father; he answers his cell phone. This is me, smiling for all its worth at the supper table half an hour later. Within the air conditioned haven of home father stabs his slab of meat, tears into it. The grinding of his stainless steel
steak knife across his porcelain plate is driving The Woman crazy, but instead of commenting she drinks. I watch her twitch, a nervous tic to match her repressed personality. Somewhere inside the shell of her body live her thoughts, boxed and parceled away. Every so often one of these breaks free and exits through her left eye. He does not notice my smiling; Father is not listening, not paying any attention at all. Bet you a thousand that he hasnʼt noticed The Womanʼs tic, doesnʼt notice her drinking. Bet you more he hasnʼt bothered to ask her birthday; a secretary somewhere will take care of that. Father may as well be tearing at my flesh, eating me chunk by chunk, bloody, raw, and whole. My hands writhe nervously beneath the table; I could be doing anything, could be knitting, masturbating, anything, they do not ask. Father has not brought up my peculiar behaviors into conversation therefore they do not yet exist. Invisibility is sometimes comforting. One can get away with murder. The woman takes a drink. Glug-glug. Chug-chug. There goes the wine. There goes the edge. The cutlery is something heavy, real silver, so The Woman startles as they drop into fathers plate. He runs a hand over his shiny pate, and sighs. Like a sitcom, here comes the punch line.
“Not too,” he asks “dry?”.
The Woman hasnʼt touched her steak either; we sit and stare at our plates. Here, she cuts a piece small enough that a toddler couldnʼt choke on it, maybe, and chews it slowly.
“Mmm,” her left eye tics, “delicious.”
Conversation is stilted, flows occasionally before freezing. It is so cold that breath almost makes a tiny cloud, little clouds to float between us. Silence roars.
“May I be excused,” I hear the words, they must be mine.
“Yes, pack up your plate for leftovers,” someone answers.
I am standing later in the kitchen, holding the plate now wrapped in tinfoil, wondering who this is for. All is still under the hum of nothing until the air conditioning clicks off and dinnerʼs finished and I move. My legs are following fight or flight signals, break into a run until my heart might explode and my throat is searing. In the deep, cool bowels of a park I lay the plate down before collapse. No breath is enough, my fingers clench into the soft mulch and it isnʼt enough. The playground is empty as a storm is brewing, the raindrops are falling through the canopy now to cool me down the way my body never will, I am exploding. Lighting flashes behind my lids and the thunder roars. Later a man at the bus stop will ask for change and Iʼll give him what Iʼve got, tin foil wrapped plate tear-dropped with rain, the steak, cutlery still wrapped inside but the knife up my sleeve, and heʼll ask if Iʼve been crying and Iʼll smile and smile and say no, no, itʼs just the rain on my face.
I head to a bar to drink, I find a girl. A nice girl, she likes my hair, she likes my face, she likes the money in my wallet, she likes the drinks I buy her, she likes our dance. I find a girl, she drinks until she can no longer until she is intoxicated until drunk on sweet nectars, full up on poison, then so do I. We leave when I tell her Iʼm parked nearby, when she canʼt light her cigarette in the rain we duck into an alleyway to make use of an alcove, and she is still finishing her drink. I smile with teeth and she drinks, she falls onto me, and then I drink too. Until I am full up on sweet, on poison. She drinks.
I drink. Itʼs only fair.
I call Bent and he will not pick up. My face is screaming LOOK AT ME and there are no wet wipes, I am not safe in this alley, not in that park, the knife is buried there now too. I call Bent and he cannot pick up, no matter how many times I call Bent is somewhere I cannot reach him. This reeks of Carolineʼs work, but Bent is not hers and I need someone above all things good to pick me up and make me clean, to help. I wander, jogging lightly, breath fogging into clouds of cold night air. This is where I hit the grass still slick with dew and must go slow or else slip up early and fall. This has happened too many times. And then gravel, a trail that leads nowhere. Circles and circles, endless, as soon as the crunch of gravel is beneath my feet, I run. Calves sore from downtime soon warm, loosen, work. Fingers curl but are cold, so cold, just like ears and nose tip. There is only so much to run on; everything goes to keep muscles pumping and torso warm. And they pump, on and on, through the cold and the burn of acid within. I run faster, faster, as though something is chasing me. Never turn to the sides, donʼt check if I really am being followed by beast or man. This is not a time for sightseeing.
Faster, faster. Quicker, nimble, nowhere. The path gets worse, roots of trees centuries old twisting and curling at my feet. I jump them, twist an ankle too many degrees and something yelps. Keep running. The ache of the ankle simply adds itself onto the burning of throat and lungs, lightening and the roar of wind rain some huffing animal whining for breath. The run is till exhaustion. Till legs simply tremble and give in and I fall heaving on the ground. I am lucky today; the ground here is soft moss and earth, damp with give beneath me. Often it is shards of pebbles and broken rocks, sometimes the abrasive bark of roots. Today the earth greets me with its freshly turned smell. I canʼt breathe deeply enough; no matter how much I gasp in the body demands more but there is no more capacity for it, so I must
drowning in thin air that canʼt support; nothing hurts with so much fear.
I shake. Breathing shakes, comes in spurts and gasps and hasty puffs. My heart beats and makes skin tremble. Ribs like twigs canʼt contain my heart, it would break out to pump itself away given a chance. And now I can lie down, roll over, just be. Hands numb rest with palms moist and pimpled with mulch, the detritus of the trees. The steady beating heart comes down slowly, each bump and ripple of its contraction vibrating through the dirt. The poor worms below must think this is an awful racket, all this rasping and thumping, sudden heavy heat. Every bit is relaxed in this moment. I can hear the twigs snap and the birdʼs wings rustle the wind. I could watch the sun rise, admire the pinks and oranges fade out acid wash to indigo blue. I am here, and this keeps me sane.
I am this close to being still. At peace.
I am this close to being dead.
Eventually, I must grasp at thorny branches and smooth skinned saplings above. Pull and steady, two feet, hot blood rushing to a slushy cold brain. Hobble on the rolled ankle, cut through the trees between my forgotten path and the lawns of all these beautiful post modern houses. So pomo. If it werenʼt for my pride I would crawl up these lawns of soft, soft grass and up the rough stone of stairs and I would collapse back into the bed, into Bentʼs.
Headlights are set to blind as I turn to face a car slow to still next to me.
“Holy shit, are you okay man? Man, shit,” eloquence from the blindness inducing driver, “what the fuck happened to you?” Max. Max, Maxʼs party, Max, his house, his dog, Maxʼs dog Kelly wasnʼt enough, the girl, girl at the bar, was not enough, Anna, Max, Anna and Max fucking as Bent and I, in Maxʼs bed, I ate your dog Max, I killed Kelly Max, Max, want Anna too, Max, but now here is Max and
“Simon, bud, get in here. Can you walk it? Are you okay?”
“Hospital,” I growl on accident.
My throat is raw and needs to be wetted. In the passenger seat of Maxʼs car I spread stains on the upholstery. My face still screams LOOK AT ME LOOK WHAT I DID covered in everything the night offered sweating and shaking and Max is freaking out, Max thinks that my shaking is from fear, from pain.
“Dude, whatʼs going on?”
“Nothing. Tell me something funny. I need to stay awake, to keep on.”
“Well, I, uh, letʼs go to my place.”
“No,” I place a numb hand on the wheel and use pleading eyes, “no, just tell me a story first. Just drive.”
“Well, I, uh, dude, where are you bleeding from,” the black spots of my vision wonʼt let me see Max when I look right at him,
“Say anything Max, just get my mind on something-”
“- I, uh, fuck, I fucked Anna last night”
laugh is a the bark of a beaten dog
“I heard,” I am laughing. Funny story.
“Yeah. Wanna hear my story?”
“Tell me what the fuck happened to you,” Max frozen in position with hands gripped on wheel knuckles stretching , “weʼre going to the hospital, dude, youʼve got a bite on your hand.”
Right hand, the meaty outside bit. Fleshy thick. Past the last skinny chicken bone, pinky bone lodged above the peaked wrist. Six little holes. Neat nice half moon scar. Dotted, like. The girl or the man, someone bit my hand. Maybe that was me. Punctured straight through above the lump, soft mountain of wrist bone. Like a rabbit pinched up the skin and cut through, nip nip. That must have been me, my teeth marks. Same as on Max I remember the size and shape. It bleeds out, such a waste. Lapping at it instead of answering I watch Max in the rearview mirror. Max frozen and staring. “Simon, what is happening? I want to help you but youʼve got to tell me whatʼs going on. Where were you?”
“With Bent,” I say, I lap, I watch.
Max is deliciously silent with hands gripping the wheel. Whole hands. He swallows what was once fear, for, of, me, now disgust, maybe.
“In your bed,” I lap, I smile, Maxʼs eyes find mine in the mirror but these are roaming and no longer mine, they glint and dart yellow as a dirty moon, dog piss on the sheets.
I lap, am thirsty.
I bring the bits of Max to Kellyʼs resting place, to Davidʼs dumping spot, I bring Max there too. Pieces of him, most of Max. What is left and what is found.
The pile is growing.
Even the ants and crows and rats now leave bits behind. The pile is growing, rotting. It is full up like me and sick at the same time, my muscles are weak and my mind a glorious
I canʼt even remember why I am outside, why here, but it feels right.
Maxʼs car I leave in his parents driveway, walk home. Keys in the ignition and the tank still mostly full. Max is normally such a good boy. They will want to know where heʼs been, they will feel better in the morning seeing it parked there. They will need to get the thing cleaned
maybe maybe junk it if those stains arenʼt soaked right quick.
I hope they arenʼt too worried about the car. The stains, stains, I should bleach it down for them, but canʼt be fucked.
Shower, change, sleep. Quiet now, my mind rests.
Sweet dreams, I sleep.
If he had known, he still would have gone. Would have left and returned home, as I did.
This is me ignoring the situation, lost in the past to forget the future.
My acts of torture were dinner, for him, vice versa.
Bent liked to smoke gold tipped cigarettes when he was most fearful. He never allowed the ash to fall and smear into his clothes, smoked them with a holder that was his grandfatherʼs. The toxicity was not allowed to yellow his nails and fingertips. And always at night, never in the daylight. He said that that would be a grand waste to smoke them during the day when you couldnʼt see and appreciate the white hot embers, the tiny dot of fire. He said that they would make his insides sparkle like diamonds. Lies. That the little flecks of gold made him feel worthy. Worth something. Of what I am never sure. Other times I reminded him that his insides were rotting and black, soaked in a film of wet soot and mucousy ash. That his lungs were filled with something akin to tar working to poison him slowly. If he was having a good day heʼd smile and say that at least he was trying to bring a light in. That he didnʼt care. That he wanted me to keep quiet. Heʼd look at the lit stick from every angle and shrug. Didnʼt worry.
When he was drunk or bruised or tired heʼd reluctantly smash it out. Sometimes cry or mumble
one time too many until it meant less than nothing. The clouds our breath made in chilled outdoor air reminded us that it was time to go. These situations were temporary by necessity, ducked behind green dumpters tagged pink and gold. Someone elseʼs space we were intruding into just by crouching in this alleyway or seated on that rotting park bench. It was always time to go.
Once he burned such a lovely full moon just behind my left ear
he burned me, muttered fuck you, and left.
my favourite spot, he knows, for a wet lick or a cool breath
The scar now a brown speck of a freckle, hidden and senseless. All the precious nerve endings flared up once for their last shock more powerful than a kiss now seared dead. A spot for anyone to touch made so that I could no longer feel it.
Mine, it says. The space where only one ever made feelings real, senses tingle now dead and forever his. Mine. He is measurable by reaction. By how heʼd chain smoke when he was desperate, lighting one after the other after the other and never realizing why the case shined back at him an empty mirror at the end of the night. Couldnʼt even remember lighting them.
When in a luxurious mood only one lit to be savored.
I asked him why. He said that he made it look good and then since he was going to die early anyway he might as well screw around as much as possible while the time was left in him. Might as well have a little fun with death.
“Just a little fun, and then we die. The only time worth living is while youʼre alive, right?”
Cue laughter. Dead laughter, the recorded forced happiness of a studio audience, an awkward acquaintance, a laugh not shared but barked out to confuse the world rather than convince it. Like this was just another rebellion, another dangerous addiction. Another little problem of sorts. The thing about Bent is that he knows heʼs dying and isnʼt pleased. Bentley James gets what he wants one way or another. Wants to speed up the process, just not by too much. Cutting wasnʼt to actually bleed to death
but for the frequent reminders that he would could and will die at any time. Any time, now. Waiting. Tick, tock. Reminders about fragility and the meaning of forever. That he was fragile and things much smaller than him could kill him. A little scar. The whole idea fascinates him.
He fascinates me. Simply.
I want to own Bent forever.
The scars he didnʼt mind; Iʼd trace them with my fingertips. Dead skin growth to remind one that life beats still in blood cooling black, life conquering death, death taking over, dead. No feeling turned hypersensitive, enough to tingle down in the lower spine. When he was hung-over heʼd be pensive. I asked him if I ever found him messed up beyond belief, dying, bleeding out
if I should call the authorities. His parents, the police, God, whoever.
“Everyoneʼs dying Simon,” heʼd said, “no need to alert anyone about it.”
“Suddenly dead Bent, that is, not the kind far off.”
The thing about Bent is that he honestly canʼt tell the difference. Time moves forwards and is ever changing and weʼve got no say in the matter. Weʼre all already as good as dead in the long run. Bent always gets what he wants one way or another.
“Weʼll be seeing each other in Hell, as far as I know,” heʼs say, lighting up a stick of black and gold, “Iʼm as good as there right now.”
Welcome to Hell, Iʼd say, see you around.
Heʼd wonder what he was doing with his life. With me. Heʼd think aloud on what the point was, to anything. Everything. And then heʼd go back. Tick, tock. Sometimes heʼd shear his hair off just for the sake of having something to do. Cut. Other times were for sitting and tracing the patterns of mossy stones holding the weight of the municipal buildings on their shoulders or the fragile weave of the tapestries nailed to the walls. Tiny things. The pieces of a puzzle too large to ever complete. His cigarettes were slender and smooth and oh-so-pretty and all they did was fill him up with smoke and leave his hair with the cloying stench of it. They killed him. Were killing him. They are the quintessential example of all that he was and loved so very, very much. “The trick to this life,” heʼd say, “is to make it past all the jagged corners and thorns and such and not to bleed too much.” Edges to catch your fingertips and flames held behind pearl ear seashells to make them glow, these were the inevitable of life. The trick isnʼt in avoiding the unavoidable, rather to staunch when needed or to leave a little scar as to not set completely aflame. Life lived in the third degree. Moths glowing grey with wing dust more delicate than butterflies with their garish red orange yellow green daylight colours. The warmth of a fire or underneath turned down covers, feathers to trap body heat to shrink wrap two sets of limbs into one wet mass and baby down to catch in lashes. The slip of dead feet iced against shins when falling asleep. Milk to explode in painted bombs with tea, the scent of cut grass washed away into sewage with rain, and the feel and colourlessness of frost. Tiny things. Blue and purple were the bruised colours of his cold lips, even in the summer. Chapped, a habit he picked up from me. Forever cold. His tiny teeth would gnaw at the flesh until they would chap and bleed. No matter what the dead lips were like a kiss with peppermint balm would soothe them. Doctors orders. A smile every time because it tingled on and on and on long after the moment was broken. Long after we stood from the covered shelter of a back alley brick doorway, off that sodden wood bench. He would have giggled if heʼd had less self control. Control. Absently, the pins and needles feeling he would wipe off with fingertips, every time, as though heʼd never felt this before. Brushing the feel of it slowly off. Private smiles, swipes.
Me. Me, his alone.
We were always we. Us. Never apart, even when we were.
That was then. This is now.
Just me. I.
He didnʼt cry when he said goodbye. That was because neither of us knew that he wasnʼt coming back. Itʼs not fair that we werenʼt warned. I would have kept him closer and not have let him go. I would have kissed bruised lips instead of biting the inside of my own.
If there was someone I could plead with, Iʼd start with begging.
Need him back.
I miss everything.
Even his worst days, those times, the brooding. Even the cold feet warming.
Even the puff of smoke exhaled on my face.
Especially the smoke. The ash and embers, the soot filled with flecks of gold. His smile when he drew the first drag, fingers on the holder. The sound of a striking match, the acrid scent of it lingering in his coat. What was left in dead hair. The smolder captured pinpoint in eyes to mirror the fiery blush of blood rushing to cheeks in the cold night air. His trembling white fingertips that never spilled the ash.
The diamonds in the dirt that he was looking for.
Gold tipped cigarettes.
If he had known, he still would have gone.
This is me ignoring the situation, lost in the past to forget the future.
FRESH FRUITS, FRESH(ly rotting)
If I was not there myself I would not have believed it.
This is now, then, very soon. This is me anywhere but here. Watching anything but this. Remembering any moment but now. Things that might be eyes were sunken and torn like the rotting flesh of fruit and everything is running and dripping and mixing with cold water flowing from the taps. So much paint wasted, fresh. Childhood can be seared into forearms, we know this, the pain of knowing a freakish nature can be so easily scratched into something deeper than skin.
an unholy mess.
we have been caught
he was hiding
he had called and said
have been caught
he had been caught, he had coughed.
He told me once that when he dies to
please burn past flesh, muscle, fat, and blood, down to bone. When everything始s ash kiss them to make sure it始s the feeling of nothing on your lips. Not a memory, not even a thought. The water flowed as paint would, swirling beautiful rich reds from the holes in his body to the thin pinks at the edge of the tiled floor.
The things that clutched my fingers were the cold mechanical joints of a machine poorly kept. It lay on the side less bruised and I sat straight backed. Waiting. We waited like this until the lights washed us in antifreeze blue and cough syrup red.
Men who did not know him or me or his father, they lifted and strapped, they wore gloves and asked questions. Their words were not comforting to my ears. One of them told me that my friend would be alright and I told him that he was not my friend and they left eventually, left me wet and stained with blood I hadnʼt shed. Real slow. In a school bathroom who knows how he got there
I got there
how here and him
why all these questions to a boy so obviously composed, breaking down, thoughtless in a mind swirling down the drain. The need for it to rain so bad that tears wouldnʼt come, no rain, so I took the car
knowing that this was not a good time.
Anna, Anna wonʼt understand. No point, no time. She will call this a cry for help and I will find a gun something heavy shined black with soot from previous adventures and shoot her right through the warm, pulpy flesh behind the shining white teeth arranged like perfectly laid bricks, headstones. She will wake to the feel of the cold metal barrel and she will suck on the shaft with false fruit gloss sloppy on the hole in her face and be gone, one moment to the next.
This was no cry. The tears would not come.
This was the kind of tragedy
that I am apt to avoid. It is loud and brash and obvious, so obvious, but itʼs the kind no one says anything about.
“What a random
act of violence,
good, good, good,
I could already hear them all talking, like
“How will his family deal
brain damage? No, not possible, he has such high hopes
nice, nice, nice,
poor boy, bad luck, all of them that family oh my how will they
goals, his girlfriend poor dear, poor, poor darling girl, those
I hear it was a gang, that school, you know
his poor parents, remember their son?
an inquiry into gang shootings downtown
No, no, we donʼt talk of such things.”
Wasnʼt he shot? Someone said they saw his face and that he was
Their chatter will overflow from their kitchen tables and bedrooms into the classrooms and on to passed notes, this is news, a big story, the kind of gossip that makes these people foam at the mouth and spit venom and devour whole on any and all involved. These people, they will eat me alive. The car sat still and all these voices were chattering only between my ears, no one knew yet, just It and I. Clouds bleached acid wash black they wanted to rain, the air smelled heavy of it and the leather upholstery held onto my dampness. Through the cotton wetness I was stuck frozen to the skin of dead animals and the windshield wipers were dragging across the glass back and forth and it would not rain. The nurses in triage brought a blanket to wear even in the damp stale heat of the waiting room
is that blood
juice honey, itʼs juice
because my white shirt was stained something innately human and there were children around. Children staring at the monster that should be crying and couldn始t. Something to pop. Sea foam bumble bee cherry red, anything. I wanted to pop something to make my skin clammy and cool, something to take my breath away completely. A cigarette was lit inside and the monster that should be crying was ushered out with hushing and soft hands, a plump woman playing the part of Lynda
shush now, come on now
easy does it
would you like a glass of water
I wanted to shoot at my own throat until the scratch of sorrow left it, until my eyes stopped their betrayal.
They itched but wouldn始t water. Couldn始t. No breath was enough, I was suffocating in plain sight.
When I could see him and it was dark but so hot, like that summer spent in Greece, I could cry. Ants were crawling into the room through a crack by the windowsill, a spastic race taking place between two of them in my cupped palms and though I could see it I could not feel. His hand was so cold and damp, the hand of a dead thing. He would not hold mine and he wasn始t sleeping.
It watched me.
The skull twisted on the bones of his neck, wan skin stretched taut between raised bruises. White linen framed lips swollen as berries ripened with the sweetest juice.
My face was wet and outside thunder cracked so hard it shook me and he
lay unmoved by it all. The rain was pouring down so hard that it pushed past the netting at the window and dripped down the wall; the ants stopped. It was the humidity, my beaded sweat, the rain dripping down my cheeks and hot into the collar at my neck but it was no such thing.
It would not stop. He was not smiling.
I kissed his lips because a piece of clear plastic was embedded into his frail dead hand, into the thick blue vein where his cooling blood must have stopped flowing. They broke and oozed the sweetest juice,
sweet red wine. Lips smooth with blood and hot with shame and pain and want and my face was streaked with salted tears that stung and he kissed back with something, It wouldnʼt speak. We kissed because there was nothing to say, the howling wind and rain drowned out the need for thought. Between us and the open door was a curtain that stained the room pale blue, pulled the life from his eyes. He is an It and It was not crying and I could not stop, my mouth bitter and metallic and lips hot wet gummed up, my tongue licked at them and I should have been disgusted to have already known the taste.
“I killed a girl last night,” I choke out the words to him, “atonement.”
There is nothing. It does nothing.
“She was pretty, and meaningless. Just meaningless-”
It tries to speak, mouths
Anna? and I smile.
A glance in a mirror would be fatal. The exact same reflection of myself from this morning, and the morning before that. My face would be smiling and it would look just as plastic and unnatural as it feels. Those same eyes hazel gone gold. Not my mothers eyes, so Iʼve been told. The same razor straight white teeth and wispy blonde hair as before and now always streaked with blood.
“Not her, but roughly the same idea.”
It does nothing again. It closes itʼs eyes and without them as a focal point I canʼt be sure what Iʼm looking at. Through the window of the room there is a flash of hair just this shade of mousy brown, Caroline James shade. She is only flitting past however, the room remains a cocoon of darkness in which I am safe. “I was jumped. Jumped,” It says. No emotion from Itʼs eyes. They are dead eyes, the sort you canʼt wake up.
“Simon, leave it. Not now.”
“Theyʼre your parents,” I say.
“Sheʼs not a part of this,” It says, “leave it. Itʼs nothing to talk about.”
“Your fucking parents.”
“Leave. It. Be.
My mind hits a blank, one where there is nothing to say and less to think, I still cannot
cannot comprehend the false care, doting girlfriend, all know what this is, that this was made out to be Bentʼs atonement for the evening, for me, that this is a punishment,
for me, this is my doing, that Bent is like this, is now an
“I ate Max,” I say, ”I ate Max and it was good.”
Itʼs eyes light again.
“And now itʼs time for me to be very, very, bad Bent because you are such a good boy, and you deserve better,” I say, “ I am going to get you out and weʼre going to go someplace new, someplace where they arenʼt on the lookout for kids like us killing kids like Max. Iʼm going to save you, and we are going to be just fine.”
“How good,” Bent whispers, “was he?”
“The best,” I reply.
“Iʼm going to do it,” I say.
“How good,” It says. Itʼs fingers scratch at the bed sheets, they itch with want.
“Idle hands,” It murmurs.
Itʼs lashes are wet, It turns away from me, It isnʼt smiling.
Tonight I walk the usual path,
Feet clack non-stop, step into the street when the red light clicks
green light clicks
on. It is raining in sheets still fresh cold from the ocean. The world is upside down and the waters are rising to reclaim us and my belly is sloshing full on au jus and boiled water. The few poor souls stuck out here with me move by in packages wrapped in black cloth reeking of wet wool. My feet clack and my belly sloshes and I am following the clicks of streetlights. Like a bat following echoes this has with nothing to do with sight because tonight the orange glow doesnʼt reach its usual corners. There is no moon glow and the houses are shut tight with the dogs whining. Pissing the carpet. Barking at the baby. Out here there seems to be nothing beyond these water sounds and man made clicks and itʼs hard to believe that there is life held in the wooden boxes, houses.
the lights change and there is no roar of ignition to follow. Nobody to hurt and no-one to watch one. Quiet streets. “Ditch the tail,” she had whispered low into the phone, anonymous call so obviously from Anna but reading BLOCKED CALLER, “like, seriously. Itʼs been a week. This is-”
I hung up. Got the message.
The police, bless their damned souls, they were getting antsy. The local press hadnʼt missed all
attacks. One after another after another, no bodies, nothing but bits of blood and bone. A hair here, the half-moon of ragged nail there. Unconnected disappearances
everyone is hoping for the worst. Maybe itʼs that girl-child molester that moved in to number 1206. Heʼs so close to the park, is that even legal? Just. Maybe itʼs the migrant workers working on the docks rough men. The kind of men that might eat your chow-chow and kill your sister. No one is thinking viceversa though they should. There is so little time before the summer comes to its blessed end and I must hurtle off to a new part of the country. To live in a little white box of concrete, to
alone. Alone in the sense that everything then will be of my own will. The classes by day and leisure activities of night. My choices. I will rule my own tiny corner of the world and Bent, Bent will be coming with me, and no one, no thing, is about to stop us. A whole new city full of dumpsters that we will fill with our scraps. No motive. No ties to those people, that world. This will be a city where the threat of rain alone is enough to chill my brittle bones. This unreal world of upper level learning beckons me with white washed cinder block dorm rooms, discrete cubes. These are the cells Bent and I dream of, want, not the fetid cell of the jail-block. Not juvenile detention.
To top it all off now there is a mega scandal. 6 oʼclock news and all, white kerchiefs pressed to bloodshot eyes. Pleading. Begging. Praying not to their god but to this unholy thief. This scourge upon their neighbourhood, this murderer, rapist, god knows what, this something. They are praying to all the wrong people.
Now a Mother and Father weeping on camera, 6 oʼclock news and everyone is watching. First the dog went missing, and then the son - bad things and good people, something like that. The SUV parked in the driveway is simply a skeleton with nothing inside. No Max, just his left behinds, his insides, way, way into the leather. There is no bleaching out stains like that from poor dear sweet Maxʼs mothers memory. Nothing but his bits
to remind them of him. They pled with me as I sat through another silent meal with Father and the Woman, our last supper together. They fly out soon.
“Please, Max is a good kid,” his Mother told me.
“Pass the salt, please.”
“-off to college in the fall, we are so excited to have him back in our arms, please, we are willing to talk-”
Police or something like that, maybe Itʼs imagination gone way twisted, someone is following us. All of us. Bent in the hospital, he isnʼt aware that out here in this real world of shadows and rain that I am trying so desperately to make proper for people like us to live in, they watch. They sit and watch me drive. Watch me run. Watch me starve and start to lash out like the starved dog I am, watch me make my visits. They watch. There are no longer enough shadows to hide. Never enough caps to pop to stop these thoughts. “We need to talk,” Anna had whispered, “talk, like, I have some you know stuff that you should, should know, you know? And we need to, like, hide.”
“Then we hide in plain sight.”
“What? What the hell does that even mean you sicko freak-”
I hung up. Got the message.
Father and the Woman flit in and out of rooms like wasps, pointed comments spurting from their lips like sour milk. About how I am lucky to have been accepted, anywhere. About fresh accounts for credit, for books and what have you. The wedding will be so
without me there.
“What is it with all this silence,” the Woman asks as we share the same space on the patio. She lights a cigarette, Benson and Hedges, superslim, a cigarette that I didnʼt know she smoked.
“What is there to talk about? Between you and me? Please, enlighten me.”
Her heartbeat pulsed slow and thick through her neck, her lips and teeth stained burgundy from some wine, delicious. The sun is setting once more, violets and blues on the horizon. A mist is rolling in, it will be a wet night. “Your Father was right,” she responded, flicking ask just like Bent had and I winced, looked away. It was time to go looking for a dog, a cat, something tame and easy to rend. My body ran now only on the energy enough to calculate revenge and feel something that might be sorrow. I was sluggish and light headed and that hole where my heart was supposed to be felt of lead. “No point trying to be nice, youʼre a mean one. You have a mean look to you, you know that. Beyond looking, pinched.” From across the fence a couple passes, the Hendricks, they catch a glimpse of us and send a little wave. I wave back, nod my head a moment. The woman takes a languorous pull of smoke and blows it in their direction.
“Is this your idea of getting me to talk?” I ask.
“Is this your idea of mourning? Your best friend is in the hospital, half-way to mutilated by some, some, gangster type, and not a word from you. Not a tear. I thought youʼd say something. Do, something.”
“You have no idea.”
“I suppose that I should be glad for that. I donʼt want to get to know you, Simon, because I am sure that you have no intention of knowing me. Furthermore, I have no intention of looking into your mind, whatever dark place that is.” “Give it a little while, just a little. We wonʼt have to know each other. We wonʼt even exist in the same world.” I stub out my cigarette, pull the wool of my sweater tighter around me. The Woman, I swear, she snarls.
“God, I can see your spine through that pullover, wonʼt you please put something else on?”
They save words only to let them curdle on their tongues. They will be leaving shortly
a short trip before
wonʼt bother you with it, so busy with what is it you do? Nothing?
Bentʼs Father has stopped emerging from his cage so often. When I do catch sight of him traversing the bay windows before the front balcony he is in black now, always black. Mourning the loss of a son that hasnʼt even died yet. Bentʼs mother hovers at the hospital, a cloud of mouse brown hair and poisonous lips. Bent, It, has stopped speaking other than to tell her that he wants to go home
real home, he says,
back to him, let me go.
I am home now, the temple at which he regularly worships.
We will all soon be leaving on short trips. Bon voyage. Permanent vacations.
Right in plain sight I broke into Annaʼs home. Little me with a weak smile on my face. Flowers for Anna - we havenʼt been talking so much lately, Bent in the hospital itʼs just hard, you know? So difficult for sickly youth like me. Little old me. Hardly harmless.
Hello there Mr. Such and such is so and so home? No.
Perfect, I think. Like I didnʼt already know. She asked me to drop off a project. Oh. Itʼs here, look, see. On this CD. In my pocket, USB, in an e-mail, does it even matter. I need into her room and the police are watching me and I havenʼt eaten in days, I just need into Annaʼs room, yeah, thatʼs right. Exactly. Lead me. Offer me something.
In Annaʼs room I left her a message
I know what you did.
In her bathroom - loofahʼs, mango gloss, hairspray, nail polish remover, a forty of vodka behind the toilet, a tiny bag of umbrella stamped fun on top of the vanity mirror - there was a tidbit of information better than anything. A little stick with the indicator a double pink line. An equal sign to
get out of my house
if the parents found out. If Bent found out -
he hadnʼt actually fucked her in months the timing is off he had told me, she, she, she
I had laughed and laughed and laughed and her Father asked if I was alright in there and I said fine, just fine. Good things, bad people, you know.
This is laying the groundwork of quite the sticky web. This is composition of the most delightful sort of music, revenge, this has nothing to do with distraction yet all of it is a misdirect. This is blackmail. This is it. Whatever it is.
15 Why It Is Good I explain the plot to Bent and he smiles so wide and wild that his lips crack right down the middles and bleed bright cerise into a napkin, onto my tongue. He smiles wider at all the right moments, the parts where someone will awake from their drugged and drunken stupor just long enough to smell the gasoline. The skin rips just a little more and he laughs at the part where I get to cry for the cameras, poor, sickly, impossible me. The possibilities are endless. This is me, kneeling on the street with ash clogging my tar wracked lungs, coughing uncontrollably until tears crack tracks and burn black into my thin cotton shirt. The fire department arrives just as plumes of smoke can be seen from houses, other houses in the neighbourhood. My, I will choke out the words bent nearly to the ground, hands scratching at the pavement until I fear my nails will rip and bleed, they are shredding, they are hamburger my, I will say my Father is in there, I will be screaming crying choking mucus running to my mouth, each vertebrae clearly visible through the sweat drenched cloth on my back. This is me as the firemen try to pull me to my bare feet, just as the news crews arrive. My Father, I will scream crying myself hoarse, reaching towards the door, a white angel sweating soot, and I will be reaching back because I want to witness the burn and sear and crackle of fat and flesh, because I am laughing so hard that it hurts. The video will go on at 6 ʻoʼ clock, it will be questioned for human rights reasons, violation of a victims rights, to privacy let him cry in private sick, watching this, just sick what they did look at him, poor poor thing it will go viral. Everyone loves a good tragedy, especially a pretty one. I have been waking up with a cheek pressed to pavement lately anyway. Fainting is for the weak, I am overdosing on pills and underdosing on lively pursuits - food, water, fuck them. I have been crushing vitamin C with omega 3 fatty acids and A-to-Z complete mineral care pills and using this mixture like a
dash of salt on cuts of fresh meat. This is me, still that kid with SARS or AIDS or something else that causes green eyes to turn gold and leaves them a skeleton wrapped in wax drippings. Whatever that nasty bug was that went around, causing anemia and a resistance to carbohydrates like the reaction to ipecac. The night Bent goes to the home of his parents, his brothers will be out for a game by seven oʼclock. Sharp. My Father and the Woman will be asleep, attempting to pre-adjust to the time difference between here and who knows where. They will be only mildly overdoped on Percs or sea-foam capsules or horse tranquilizers. Usual fare. Bent and I will be lured out of our homes for a short while and during that time everything will change. Everything, everyone, will go. Up in flames. So the world turns. “We can go anywhere to get over this, do anything. We are who we are because of them and once theyʼre gone we can be anything.” “Anyone,” he whispers, fingers grazing the tears, spreading A/B negative onto his chin, “anyone.” Eyes spark from him to It and back again and at this point there is no difference in the look those eyes give while appraising prey people. The last I tell him before I slip back out, tiny threadbare scalp hidden beneath cashmere and wool toque, that there are people in this world because of what they came from. There are people like him with little problems because there are people with me with little problems and we all have to be taken care of for this society to keep on working. He tears at the parts of himself that might otherwise make it through time unblemished because things like me monsters love the hiss and sting, the flow and staunch of it. He does things like this and asks no rewards, never tells, he uses those idle hands and puts them into action because there were days I was half losing my mind with the pulsating need to do something terrible something horrific something that would quench a thirst never ending, he bleeds for me because I will not ask and he cannot admit it. “Bent,” I whisper, “you are above all things holy and people like you exist because monsters like me do to. Because everyone is someoneʼs fault and it is simply a matter of deciding who to blame.” Bent and I exist to gnaw at the foundations of our fathers, to break with force, if necessary, the glass walls of our confinement. We are here to rip down the old and replace it with new
blood to reach high and never ever compromise. To live each moment hoping it is our last with the full intention of going further the next time, to catch each breath inhale as though we are being chased by things we cannot see but can feel wheezing with hot drool dripping down our necks each moment. Burdens and memories and expectations and tradition that if we didnʼt exist no one would ever dream of questioning. We exist to fuck with them because we are one, we share this life of outsider, because we are a force to be reckoned with. Because we own one another and nothing else matters, really. To be taken care of is to take care. I exist to demolish the walls of Bentʼs life. To bring chaos where order should reign. Anna. His father. His mother. I exist to accomplish these simple goals, to take care of the one thing that takes care of me. To lick tenderly at the hand that feeds me. We will exist to live in a world that is no good at all. Rather, in a land that is great. To our advantage. For our testing. We have tested our boundaries and discovered only that we have no limits. There are no longer going to be distractions. There is going to be us and a new world, a free city of ours for the taking. We will be studying the subjects of dandyʼs, wasting the days away and with sunglasses firmly in place, pills dissolving in the acid of our bodies, idle hands occupied by cigarettes. Nights we will roam with our heartbeats set to the timing of the streetlights flicking on and off, of the pounding of late night bass behind walls slick with human slime. We will respond as one to the bark of a dogs frothing mouth chained without care to wire gate. We will run not from ourselves but after all those things that go bump in the night. We will flourish in this new world. The plan is thus. The Father goes first, then the Mother. First responsible first tried, tested, ruled upon. Second is Anna. The accomplice is just as guilty as the perpetrator. Then Father. The Creator. Father created me and with him it ends and I can be new and whole for Bent to have. All of this will be pinned on Anna, Anna imperfect, dear sweet pregnant slut she is. Anna consumed by jealously that raged beyond all rationality. The rage of dear sweet fucked Anna made her wish her cheating faggot boyfriend dead her words, real, left in a message for Bent on his phone before the attack, before her tearful talk with his Father, this admission, those words that started my whole world on fire, this is real Anna and the mouth I wish I could mangle, could shoot at the succulent
pink flesh made her lash out at poor sweet dead Max. Made her. Made her mind twisted, a mess to be reckoned with, made her fight and lie and leave poor sweet bruised Bent in the hospital with the power of her poisoned words. Annaʼs lips are coated with venom, she is a snake to be stopped. Anna wants me dead and on the night Bent arrives home from the hospital all will go sour. Anna will be the one responsible for lighting the flames of hell that will test and temper Bentʼs parents flesh, but Bent will not be home. She will be the one blamed for flicking the magnesium flash of a matchstick that will burn Fatherʼs house of glass and steel back to the molten sand from where it came and Father will be the one there to take the heat, to feel all the anguish I could ever dream of causing. And Anna will be blamed for taking her own dear sweet short life. For downing pills and pills and pills with that forty of vodka hidden in her bathroom. Blamed for taking, too, the tiny life of a fetus yet unformed. Anna will take the blame for all this, there will be so so so many things that made Anna act so strangely, so out of character. Violent. Angry. The wrath of a woman scorned. No one made me do it. No one person convinced me of this plan. No one but myself is to blame for these thoughts that come from some dark place, the box normally left chained up in the back of my brain. I want to be no oneʼs fault but my own, I want to own and be owned of my own accord, I want to breathe fresh wet air and inhale to my lungs capacity and exhale into Bentʼs lungs to fill them up, I want to be fully feral and this is no oneʼs fault but my own and I wanted it this way all along. Flick, one life transformed forever into another. After the fire my tears will soak the ashes and the rain that falls from my face will be fresh and real not in mourning for what was lost but in preparation for what there is to gain. For unlimited nights fading into endless days. We wonʼt question why it is good.
Six months from now, everything is perfect.
Six months from now I am the picture of the politically correct. Youth elite. The blonde half of a power couple roaming the cobble stoned streets of the most prestigious school in the nation. My choice. My therapist is one Dr. Fields but she asks me to call her Iris and I wouldnʼt mind catching her off guard some night, walking to her car.
“Any strange,” she asks, “thoughts? Dreams, nightmares?”
“Yes,” I say but what I mean is no. What I mean to say is that each and every morning I wake and am surprised only that there are no dreams, no nightmares. Life has stopped being one and sleep now is empty and complete.
“The fire?” she asks,
“Always,” I answer and what I mean is never. What I mean is that after a run, a chase, once the hunt is over and done with, itʼs all I can do to light something in celebration. Matchsticks and me are friends, canʼt she see that? Fire brings me only the deepest calm, brings enough black smoke to
and breath out clouds that prove I am alive and well. I inhale the fumes and am whole.
After supper each evening, as the fir needles are washed from hair and the drying rust coloured flakes from hands up to the elbows, sleep comes easy and deep.
We are settled,
with an estimated net worth of -
well, itʼs uncouth to say, really. Old money never tells, right?
Everything is beautiful.
I ask the moon this most nights and am yet to decipher the answer.
All the regular players are absent. The cast has been reduced from a rotation of b-listers circling, coming from the shadows. Characters like Father, the Woman, Anna, gone. Gone, gone, gone. Some evenings I set them plates for dinner and we chat. Rather, I snipe at them.
Father is absent, as always. Like god, whoever, away on business.
Some days I wake and find little notes, typed, printed. Times New Roman, hideous, they lie in wait for me in the strangest places.
Donʼt forget to brush, they say.
Talk in a month, keep to yourself.
Call your Mother.
I am not sure if it is Bent leaving the notes, the psychopath, or me, or his ghost. There is no point in questioning whether he exists, whether fear-mongering fried Father would have one. The question exists who among us three is leaving these typographically revolting reminders for me.
A guilty conscience is not necessarily better than a ghost.
“Howʼve you been keeping,” Mother slurs at me from a hundred
a million cold miles away.
We chat only when she is sober enough to figure out how to put me on speakerphone because that way she can wander the room, pour drinks, apply mascara. Et cetera. “Never better,” is the answer and she doesnʼt believe it, cannot. Mother believes this to be sarcasm, a defense mechanism.
“Oh, thatʼs funny,” sheʼll drawl from a plane on its way to
“just hilarious, you are. You know that. But really, darling, how are you?”
“Fine, Mother. Just fine.”
“Oh, well that is good. He was never good to us, you know. Good news. I am thinking of getting a fern, a green one.”
“Green? Really Mother, thatʼs fascinating.”
“Is it not? My psychic tells me, Lauryn, Betty was awful found out she was a fraud, complete, Lizzie or Laura whatever, she tells me they breathe for the room. Can you imagine?”
“My oh my Mother, I simply canʼt.”
“Cannot. Darling, do not use contractions. Speak properly.”
In six weeks so much and so little changed. The scenery and the players, maybe, but the script is all the same. All is well, I say. I smile, big and sad and everyone eats it up. Everyone in this world is hungry for something and they just need to be fed. The media needed lies and our families had to be fed to fire and I need to be fed life to live. These are the simple equations that allow for life as usual to
We have our problems. Little problems, I call them.
Like how on the coldest winter nights when the draft from the single pane windows is visible in the games it plays with drifting cigarette smoke, how even then we sit in the cold and watch an empty grate. No fire. Not ever.
Like how Bent winces until tears collect in-between the creased lids
enough to notice
insufficient to fall
of a lighter is to be heard. He winces and takes so long to blink and in that space is the only time I still find it hard to
because it始s more painful than the fire ever was. Than the delicious smoke. Worse than any shot of acidic pain in the stomach. Worse than leaving the dumping ground for the last time, crying real crystalline tears of goodbye onto the yellowed bones of Kelly and David and friends and birds past. Worse than the smell of seared flesh, so like a barbeque it would turn your stomach, worse even than the moment my arm was caught burning and for a second my stomach simply flip-flopped, felt hunger before the flash heat of a thousand thousand irons left red hot on coals could be registered by a brain deprived. Addled.
Six months from now Bent still kisses the spot behind my ear with the scar in the shape of the moon before I fall asleep
he doesn始t sleep
until I am, for fear
of what? we cannot, will not,
never ever or always speak of.
Bent始s eyes dart with It more often than not now. He will stop wearing the gold braided chain and the cross that burns his skin day in and night out in time, this I know. For the moment he is both sheep and wolf. Some nights when the air is so cold one can hear a twig snap the block over, can decipher the rustle in the dumpster as a human scavenger from a gnawing rat, nights so cold that sound carries thrice as far
some of those nights I hear old Bent whispering the names of the dead, praying for them.
Some night the words are loud and sprawled in spray paint ten feet high and too many feet across to count, they read
I DID IT LOOK AT ME LOOK WHAT I DID
in red, black, in white on brick faces and in tar on cement street corners. Some nights Bent goes looking for his old God, for something, goes looking to be caught and made to pay. Retribution. Some nights he plays at darts with family photos saved from the fire. The face of his Father is merely an open hole revealing a cork-board punctured a thousand thousand times. Starched collars and Sunday shirts buttoned high to cover anything that could be taken as
Bentley, abnormal, insert sarcastic scoff.
He avoids the faces of his brothers for they are innocent, they have always been background noise, pleasant if discordant. We will visit on Christmas and they will always send gifts on birthdays.
Tragedies do things to people. Priorities, you know?
The magical scar,
already mangled skin saved from being burnt twice.
The match was a melodramatic touch, it was devilish and brutally disfiguring. The burning saved me from a life of questioning and brought a world of difference. A tattoo of innocence how could he have done that
to his own family no less, out of the question
barely escaped, didnʼt he, poor thing, child, going to college this fall can you imagine
did you see the video on the news? Oh, I couldnʼt watch but god
for something so small he sure did burn bright.
insane to even think it, you sicko
This old scar. It is the dividing line between the rippling fresh pink of fresh flesh extending from left fingertips to nape, across from the peak of a collarbone pushing through the top of a shoulder and over the wide landscape of a back. Mine.
Difficult to assume ownership when the skin isnʼt even all mine.
“Now I lay me down to sleep,” Bent whispers to himself, someone, not God because he is most definitely away on business
“now I lay me down to sleep,” he whispers when he thinks I am
not watching through slit lids the clouds his breath makes in the black night air, white with condensation, cold, “now I lay me down to sleep,” he whispers never ending. Bent doesnʼt sleep because he cannot finish the verse. I sleep because the repetition is incessant, monotonous, the ticking of the saddest clock that ever was. The most beautiful clock, he keeps up with the times. His rhythms are mine and without them there would be no world to wake up to, no
These are the things I mean by declaring everything perfect. The burnt down to bone in places, it is perfect. It makes me pathetic and pathetic things that are loved are not loved at all, they are worshipped. Venerated. Death by fire made me God, thatʼs why Bent has so many troubles praying to someone who is no longer there. This cold house is our temple and we leave and stroll, frolic and play and come home to this cold brick and concrete temple of our own making. Youʼll never come home and have to watch the pink foam insulation melting, not
in a concrete building.
Thatʼs why he said
“Weʼll take it,”
before either sole of blackened leather shoes
inherited, saved from the blaze, one thing,
had stepped foot inside.
“We did this,” I said, waking up from the fires,
“we can do anything.”
In my half state I am perfect. Everything is perfect. We all have our little problems,
Six months from then, everything is perfect.
I come home from a night hunt
successful, young, leftovers in a 7/11 bag, red fresh
and the grate is full of water. Where the roar of combustion consuming dry as tinder logs should be, there is reflecting blue and white and silverish light. Tiny gold bodies float in a glass box, water everywhere in an aquarium that Bent has bought.
“Goldfish?” I ask and his eyes are wide and smiling
watching them dart here and there, everywhere, big wet wolf grin.
full of It
“Snacks,” he replies and for the first time since we were born we laugh until ribs shake and the tears are happy and there is no barking dog in that sound, we are human and fallible and together and free.